making disciples

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

It is true that many hold onto a faith which does involve working at change of life, but seems mostly about the hope of eternal life, sins forgiven, and an emphasis on how undeserving we are. Of course, we’re unworthy in and of ourselves, but there are passages that indicate that somehow God’s grace is at work to make us worthy, to help us live lives worthy of the calling we’ve received.

Why it is that so many are vibrant in an evangelical faith, maybe even a gospel faith, but back to more of the common evangelical faith of today. Evangelical is from the Greek word from the New Testament meaning gospel. But in present evangelical understanding there’s a marked emphasis on assurance of eternal life. Yesterday in a sermon at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio, Lynn Miller said this:

Nothing is more disturbing to the secular culture around us than the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that the evidence of your salvation in Christ is not your belief that you will go to heaven when you die, but the evidence that you are living according to his teachings while you are still alive. And living according to the teachings of Jesus is disturbing. Jesus says he loves the stranger, the widow and the orphan. In this self-centered culture that surrounds us, that is disturbing.

The problem is that the church is not really fully committed if committed at all to the work of making disciples. A disciple is a follower of Christ, committed to following him come what may. Today that is done through faith and baptism through which there is a commitment together as church to hold each other accountable as all together seek to follow Christ in all of life.

Sadly, even in many of the best of churches, there’s mostly an emphasis on the blessed assurance that is ours in Christ which is good, along with practical application of Scripture to help us in our lives. And some are much better in holding people to what Scripture is saying, the challenge there. But it needs to be made clear, no bones about it that if we’re not in to follow Christ, and such following has to be total, complete, than we’re not in the faith taught by Christ and found in the New Testament. Period.

This will be messy and not easy, and we can well understand that if we look at our own lives. But there has to be both the individual committed to Christ within the church, and the church committed to the individual. All of us committed to each other since we are after all a part of each other as one body in Christ. We seek to follow Christ in everything and to do so together. I need other’s help and in God’s economy and will, they need mine as well. In love and prayers, in listening and helping. Through everything. Finding God’s good will for us which includes mission to the world since by our lives we’re light in the Lord. In the way of Jesus, in and through him.

confirm your faith by following through with action

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.

James 2:22

James is referring to Abraham’s faith confirmed as it were in his obedience to God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. That is an impossible one to wrap one’s head around. Key is to understand that this kind of faith does not depend on our own understanding. God helps our understanding, so it’s not like understanding is left behind. But again, it’s not our own understanding, not from our own reasoning.

When we have clarity, and a sense of what we need to do by faith, then we need to follow through in that, even if “a thousand screaming monkeys” might be yelling at us otherwise. In doing so, in the words of James, our faith is not passive, but active along with our works, indeed brought to completion by the works. Our faith might be good insofar as it goes, but may not be complete until we follow through with the action which corresponds to it.

As followers of Christ, we certainly want to live by faith. And that faith involves our entire lives, and every part of them. God will help us to have the understanding needed at each point and juncture of our lives. In and through Jesus.

dreams and thoughts of what could have been

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Life makes philosophers of us all? Well, at least for those who take it seriously, though actually everyone has some philosophy meaning outlook on life. We can look back and see better, but mainly how God saw us through in spite of ourselves. And how hopefully we’ve come to see that what really matters is simple faith in and obedience to God. And to understand that our faith rests in the faithfulness of Christ, so that we follow together because of that. That can surely make all the difference in the long run.

If in your stronger more youthful decades you can put your all into following Christ in a community of followers of Christ, and seek to simply live in and from that reality, you will be truly blessed. Toward the end, the strength just isn’t the same, and the heart is often burdened down with the weight of other’s struggles, not to mention the inevitable troubles of life. And for most of us there’s regret and a wish that we could undo something or some things, and do other things all over again.

Lean on community in Jesus, and seek to be a follower of Jesus along with other followers of Jesus. Seek humility, above all just seek God’s love and will in Jesus by the Spirit, and with the desire to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. We’re in this primarily not for ourselves, but for others. Together, Christ’s body for each other and to be light in the world. God will take care of things. And in the end will bring a good end, weaving everything somehow in that for good. Far beyond us, and I doubt we’ll ever fully understand it, but all will end well.

In and through Jesus.

“a long obedience in the same direction”

From Eugene Peterson’s book of the same title taken from a quote yes by Friedrich Nietzsche, this phrase evokes something vital for Christ-followers. We must follow on no matter what, yes in obedience.

It is great to have breakthroughs along the way, to have answers to prayer over what troubles us. And we need to continue to ask God for such. Many of us are going to have plenty of days when fear rears its ugly head and fills our hearts and minds with troubling or at least distracting thoughts. Which in part is why we have to just learn to plod along, no matter what we’re experiencing with “a long obedience in the same direction.”

This isn’t going to be easy. We do need to hold on even at times to just the memory of the light we had when it seems like there’s little or no light left for us. We wish it was always light, but no, it just isn’t so. That’s the reality of the experience in which we live. We have to accept that, and settle into the commitment to follow on come what may.

Part of our problem is that we want life to work on our terms. But God knows what we need, and is working on us to complete that. Even when it’s our own weakness that makes it more difficult, we just have to keep going. That may not seem helpful, but it’s necessary and part of the grace given to us by God to see us through to the very end. In and through Jesus.

access closed to grumblers

Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the Lord.
So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

Psalm 106:24-27

It’s easy to grumble about this and that. So and so is not doing this right, or someone has a lousy rotten attitude, or whatever negative it might be on our mind. Then we flare up, maybe curse under our breath or out loud. And often we can decry what we ourselves are up against, the tough responsibilities we have, the at times nearly unmanageable things we have to do. And we can descend into something we would rather not be. Groveling and grumbling. A grumbler, down in the mouth, on edge, doing what we do because we have to do it. I’ve been there.

This psalm awakens us to the fact that grumbling is not pleasing to the Lord. It amounts to lack of faith and is plain downright disobedient. We need to tell God our troubles and what is happening, what we’re up against. But we also need to believe his promises to us, that he is present with us, and will help us through whatever we face. Not just to get through it and get it over with. But to actually both do well and prosper in it.

It’s up to us, the outcome here actually hinges on us, our decision, what we choose to do. Are we going to be true followers of Christ or not? We need to acknowledge to Christ our shortcomings, our propensity to respond to unkindness with unkindness ourselves. Just our poor attitude. To follow Christ in this life won’t be easy, but that’s our calling. And that includes trusting in God, believing God’s promises, checking ourselves when we want to grumble, turning such thoughts into prayers, and in this seeking to be obedient children of God. In and through Jesus.

our suffering for Christ, part of God’s good work?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:7-10

I was noting I think for the first time the strange (to me) connection Peter makes between Christian suffering and God’s judgment. Seems like there’s a connection there. And we could possibly tie that to Christ’s own suffering as mentioned in the book of Hebrews, how he actually somehow “learned obedience” in such. Once made perfect might refer to his accomplishment of our salvation by his death.

We need to stare the hard sayings of Scripture directly in the face and remain there. This is not at all diminishing God’s love, not in the least. It is pointing to what we actually need as those who are being restored into what God meant for us in the first place, now through the new creation in Jesus.

On the other hand, the passage from 1 Peter quoted above might simply mean that the judgment from God is to separate those who suffer for doing ill from those who suffer for doing good and because of their witness for Christ. That well could be the meaning.

I find it interesting to see some possible link between what God is doing and what God did with Jesus, if we understand either very well. Either way, we can be sure that God is at work in our lives to help us be ready for whatever persecution we may have to endure. In and through Jesus.

 

going on what we do know

Oftentimes when I’m reading the Bible I just don’t get it. Or I should say, yes, I can give some sort of explanation for everything, but I’m left wondering about this or that. I have questions myself.

Sometimes that might be an issue of translation of Scripture, but I think more often it’s just the natural head fog we have, because we’re often spiritually obtuse, that is, unenlightened, not getting it because the message of the Bible is not meant just to be known, but to be lived out. And a big part of that is our walk by faith when we hardly know where we’re going, but trusting God for each step.

What we need to do is simply go on what we do know by faith. And keep going. Light will come to help us understand more if we just keep going. And regardless, God will give us all the light we need for life through faith in his word and the message of the gospel. In and through Jesus.

remain in the word

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.

Psalm 119:105-112

I am one of those Bible Christians. We “Bible Christians” get plenty of bad raps nowadays from people who want to point out deficiencies in our theology. I’m sure there’s plenty of that to go around for everyone. It’s not like we shouldn’t listen to the criticisms or critiques of others. But the main point I would like to make here is that we need to remain in the word: God’s written word, Scripture, the Bible. And to keep doing so day after day after day. With the intent of faith, trust, and obedience. All else is secondary to that. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s law set in our hearts

ש Sin and Shin

Rulers persecute me without cause,
but my heart trembles at your word.
I rejoice in your promise
like one who finds great spoil.
I hate and detest falsehood
but I love your law.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.
Great peace have those who love your law,
and nothing can make them stumble.
I wait for your salvation, Lord,
and I follow your commands.
I obey your statutes,
for I love them greatly.
I obey your precepts and your statutes,
for all my ways are known to you.

Psalm 119:161-168

There may be a secondary and maybe even basic way in which God’s law is set in the human heart by creation, with the sense of right and wrong that comes with that. But since humans are so flawed in their sin, the primary way is surely in the promise in Jesus of a new covenant in which God will write God’s law on the human heart. God’s people in the first covenant experienced a good measure of that as is evidenced here in the psalmist’s words.

I say that to say this: God’s love as evident in “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5) sets the agenda for this law, with specifics spelled out along the way in God’s written word: Scripture. We can be sure by God’s Spirit that has God not only written his law on our hearts, but that God confirms it day after day. It’s always in the way of love, bringing righteousness, peace and joy. And when we experience it, we long for it all the more in our hearts and lives. In and through Jesus.

 

 

grace to obey

ק Qoph

I call with all my heart; answer me, LORD,
and I will obey your decrees.
I call out to you; save me
and I will keep your statutes.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promises.
Hear my voice in accordance with your love;
preserve my life, LORD, according to your laws.
Those who devise wicked schemes are near,
but they are far from your law.
Yet you are near, LORD,
and all your commands are true.
Long ago I learned from your statutes
that you established them to last forever.

Psalm 119:145-152

There is no question that the psalmist is completely dependent on God. That dependence includes ability to obey. Although the cry evidently is for deliverance from enemies, I think there is something more going on when God so rescues. It’s God’s work, and with that work there’s a grace that is all about living in God’s love and out of that love, in God’s will. Often what happens in the Old Testament is relegated more or less to the physical, and in the New Testament to the spiritual. That is probably an artificial distinction which doesn’t play out in either Testament.

God’s work in Christ is comprehensive. And even though the psalmist lived before Christ and before the coming of the Spirit through Christ, yet the Spirit was present and at work in the Old Testament. People were still not only declared righteous by faith, but had a change of heart and life which accompanied that. Of course Christ’s coming brought the fulfillment of everything. But it’s evident in the Old Testament as we can see from this passage that God’s people had a mind and heart to obey God. And the help they received was not partial, merely physical. It gave them the heart, will, mind and strength to carry on, regardless of what else, as they looked to God. For us today in and through Jesus.