against “success”

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

I wonder what Jesus would say to us today if he were present in person. We can leave that to our imaginations, and I’m sure many would just think that he would basically rubber stamp whatever agenda they’ve embraced. But would he? Wouldn’t we all have to face his penetrating gaze? Though we don’t really understand him all that well, if at all, he can see right through us.

I wonder if what we consider success nowadays would be seen as success by Jesus. It is often seen in worldly power, or the power of the state, pushing agendas through. Unfortunately when we major on that kind of power, it seems to me anyhow, that we’re clearly leaving behind what Jesus taught his disciples here, and what he would tell us today.

There certainly is a tension between wanting to see good laws and policies, and accepting and learning to live with the reality when what we consider less than good is in place. And of course no political power of this world is part of God’s kingdom in King Jesus.

I like to think that this is not my problem, but I do have a certain view of success which I need to question and bring to God in prayer. It may be good in some ways, and yet still fall short of what the Lord’s description of it would be for me.

It is set here in terms of taking up our cross and following Jesus, yes, to death. Success in the Lord’s eyes seems quite the opposite of success as the world sees it, or as we would naturally expect.

For Jesus it was a rejection of what the world holds dear. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not on his priority list. Peter must have expected the Messiah to meet messianic expectations of that day. To at least fulfill the prophecies of their Hebrew Scripture in something like was anticipated, an actual physical rule that put worldly empires in their place. Actually the Lord was going to do that, but in precisely the opposite way of what Peter imagined. It made no sense to Peter, but the Lord put him in his place in no uncertain terms. It was either the way of the cross, or a mere human, Satan-inspired way. There was nothing in between.  It was one or the other.

To the present, while I may not care about power politics where I live in the United States, and though I do participate in the democratic process here, I don’t think I have any desire to be a part of a dominant political party. I do have concerns in how the political process plays out, the impact it has on the world, on people, locally, nationally and internationally. I don’t think participation in such a process is necessarily contradictory to our Lord’s teaching, though it could be. It all depends both on what our goal actually is, and also how we think it should be achieved.

For me, success often looks like something I’ve more or less embraced all my life: working hard, providing for family, giving to the church, hopefully helping others, all good things in themselves. But just maybe the Lord wants me to pick up on some things which he considers success which are all but out of my line of vision. Maybe for me it’s more like giving up concerns and pursuits which might not be bad in themselves, but crowd out the better. And to quit thinking that it all depends on me, my effort, which deep down I know is all from God, since actually everything that’s good is a gift from God. Maybe in my pursuit for things which are good in themselves, I’ve lost sight of the greater things. Justice, mercy and faithfulness were called major priorities by our Lord (Matthew 23:23-24). Maybe I’ve seen success in too much of the way the world sees it, by my own effort and poor attempts at loving. Maybe I’ve lost sight of depending less on myself, and more on God. Do I really believe that I can do nothing apart from Christ? Do I make my relationship with him the priority it needs to be? Do I see my relationship with other Jesus followers as central to both their growth and mine, all of us being in this together? Do I embrace humility, and really value others as more important than myself?

Just some thoughts on a subject in which I feel like a mere beginner. But want to learn and follow Jesus.

Christ’s victory in the world’s eyes

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 22-25

What if Jesus were present today? What if he showed up in today’s world in a rerun of his first appearing? What if he came for the first time into today’s setting? Would things be different? Would he be well received by the world elites- governing and even religious?

Back when Jesus did come, the cross was the means and method of execution. Only enemies of the state were executed. Jesus ended up being counted as an enemy of the state. Why?

Well, to begin with, what Jesus did flew right in the face of the Jewish ruling authorities who were religious and wanted nothing more than God to come and remove the Romans and fulfill the promises they had long awaited. Jesus comes and proclaims repentance from their way of thinking along with the kingdom of God. Not only contradictory to what they anticipated, but actually in opposition to it. If a Roman soldier asks you to carry his baggage one mile, do it for two miles. Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you.

And then Jesus’s modus operandi: He not only spent time with the lowlifes, but even seemed to enjoy their company. Completely scandalous. And Jesus broke all the rules. He paid no attention to cleansing laws. What on earth was he up to?!?

Even though Pilate wasn’t on board with the Jewish leaders in their determination to put an end to what Jesus was about, it wasn’t long before he and the Jewish ruler in a kind of monarch position, Herod, previously enemies, had actually become friends. Why? Well possibly because of their incredulity over this Jesus. Not because of the hate directed toward him by the leaders of Israel, but simply because Jesus was not only a puzzle to them, but someone not to be taken seriously at all, in fact maybe even a threat since what Jesus seemed to be proposing as king with a kingdom was indeed preposterous to the world, and maybe even a danger of some sort that they would do well to get rid of. After all, you can’t run a nation or empire that way. Maybe somehow someway this even got under their skin a bit, even if they didn’t take it all that seriously. An enigma for sure. Of course Jesus’s way did indeed press the buttons of the religious elite.

Would it be any different today? Though it’s a different setting, the core or heart remains the same. To some extent even the church has taken on the spirit and attitude of the state, of governing authorities. Power is valued in terms of force and might. The cross is not about a way of life, but for one’s salvation so they can get on with the normal pattern here on earth with their ticket for what follows afterward in the next life.

So no, I don’t think by and large Jesus would be treated any differently today. In fact I don’t think he would be recognized as Jesus at all by many, even by those who today name his name. The question would be, do they have his spirit? If indeed they do have the Spirit, then, even with much difficulty, they would come to recognize him. But do we have his Spirit when we follow the pattern of this age, and fall in line with that? That in itself is not of the Spirit, but of the world, the flesh and the devil.

What is different about your faith in Christ? Is it just a matter of living a better life, even of love, yet within the system of this world, as a participant in that? Even imagining that with effort and the right people in place, the system can be Christianized? Or is it in the way of Jesus? A way which makes no sense to the world. Refusing to participate in the world’s way of power, but embracing the power of God’s love in a world of hate. Following in the way of Jesus. Not just about preaching the cross, but also about living it out. In love, the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

what difference is there in Christianity???

I’ve been wondering lately about the Christian presence in the world. It’s in the headlines quite often lately, evangelical Christian leaders speaking out on politics. There’s much astir. You start to wonder if being a Christian involves a big emphasis on a particular brand of politics. And what you see and hear from political leaders seems to be the same air these Christians breathe.

I’ve also been wondering lately just where the Jesus community really is? You can go to any number of places and hear a good sermon, message, conversation, whatever they call it. And with worship music skillfully done. But is what’s being formed there Christian? What difference does it make? Is there any distinction between that and what we might find elsewhere in the world. Sometimes I’ve honestly wondered.

When Christians seem to indicate that everything is at stake like in the upcoming election, then I’m not seeing any difference. Christians seem to be just another power player. But if I can see people humbly trying to follow Christ, his words and example, if I see something of that, that’s when my despair begins to lift, and a little hope sets in.

The church is not supposed to be a power player in the world. It should be sensitive to issues especially when the lives and good of people are at stake. To speak up humbly yet firmly and resolutely on issues like racism along with other issues is certainly more than fine, but necessary. And there is rightfully what’s called “the politics of Jesus” (see Matthew 5-7, etc.).

There’s only one difference in Christianity, one and really no more. And if other things become prominent, then that’s a sign that difference might be all but lost. That one difference is Christ. Not just Christ and Christ alone as in saving us. But Christ present with us in all of our humility and brokenness. Christ present to us for each other in the church, and for the blessing of the world in doing good works of love. Jesus. Read the gospel accounts along with the rest of the New Testament, and this will become clear.

Christ is the difference. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. Along with the distinctions that will follow. There might be plenty of rubbish to clear out of the way.

leaders must lead by being examples

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Yesterday I suggested that given certain guidelines, it’s possible for a fallen pastor to be restored. This scripture from Peter is another basic essential passage for pastors and leaders in the church. Here money and power are both alluded to. The passage is rich, and every part important, but what stands out to me is the necessity that the pastor and leaders of the church must be examples in how they live. Of course their calling involves oversight and service, even as a shepherd takes care of their flock.

Paul said that others should follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Being an example is key, along with the service in God’s gifting of the leadership for the church. A great and wonderful calling. To help others realize the “high calling” that is also their’s (Philippians 3), in and through Jesus.

can a fallen pastor be restored?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders,so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

On questions like this we need to go back to both scripture and the church. It’s not like there’s one uniform answer to this, but the general answer is yes, but only after submitting to a program for restoration. And contingent on the leadership of the church deciding, the decision not automatic or to be taken lightly. And this should take some time, how much, depending. Maybe at least a couple of years, but only with loving, regular ongoing oversight.

The picture I read here is not suggesting a pastor has to be perfect, since there’s no sinless perfection in this life. But there should not be even a whiff of impropriety in matters of morality or money or power, for that matter. And just because a man (or woman) is genuinely sorry not only over the consequences, but necessarily over the sin itself both against God and man, doesn’t mean all is now okay. It takes time to consider the underlying issue which led to the decline and fall, and more time to see the change of that pattern in character which led to the actual misstep and sin. It is one thing to step out of the sin, but quite another to get the sin out of one’s life. And the needed help for those who have been hurt, such as the pastor’s spouse and family, must be given.

When it comes to morality, both adultery and pornography would have to be considered in this category. Power is more subtle, but there should be a mutual submission going on in leadership with much prayer under Christ. Any church should beware of depending on one person to guide them, no matter how much wisdom they have. And money is also a difficult one. Often pastors haven’t been paid enough. They must be willing to be sacrificial in their lives, but the church also must look out for them, and honor them with giving them at least enough, and preferably more than enough. But that’s the ideal. Sometimes in smaller works, like Paul, pastors must work on the side as “tent makers.”

In the end, pastors must be show the way, as well as tell, not giving in to any thing that is wrong, “little” things included. Temptation is one thing, giving in is another. But confession of sin and change is also important along the way. The point is that there should be a pattern of behavior which brings no reproach to Christ or to the church, and is an example for the church. And I believe that this surely can include restored pastors as well. 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.

keep on reading the entire Bible

I don’t think I’m good with titles. Yesterday to me (ha) the post was interesting. When I had my blog on BlogSpot (or was it Blogger?) for a good number of years before it was lost for a year and a half, I had no statistics, so I wasn’t sure how many hits and reads I would get in a day, and I didn’t want to know. But WordPress, to which I switched, automatically provides that. And though perhaps it doesn’t catch everything, my blog is quite humble even in comparison to blogs like mine, I think, and exponentially so in comparison to ministry blogs, or blogs by scholars. So I will try to do better on titles (knock on wood), but today, related to yesterday, I want to emphasize one thing:

Keep on reading the entire Bible.

We need to read (or listen, both are good) scripture through, over and over again. The end all of scripture is to lead us to Christ and see it in terms of the gospel, which means, the good news in him. And that good news will inevitably challenge us in our thinking, in our living. How do we measure things, what value do we place on this or that, and why? If nothing else, it will humble us into realizing that we simply don’t know on a host of matters, even while we try to hold on to what we are beginning to understand to what might be called core values of God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

The gospel is as big as all of life, since it’s God good news in Jesus, not only for the reconciliation of sinners to God, but also of all things to God. So that a new order ultimately is put in place, the beginnings of which are found humbly in the church, in and through Jesus.

Which for us ought to put in bold relief the lie of the power of this world, and how even the best of it will fall short and fail. That doesn’t mean such doesn’t have its place and value, but that our hope is in King Jesus, and the good news in him, a good news at its heart- for the poor, which is to be expected by those who keep reading their Bibles (Matthew 11:4-5). Helping us look forward to a time we can hardly imagine now, even if we begin to see inklings of it both in actual life changes, and in our imaginations, and in what is on our hearts to pray.

idols in the land

We read in scripture that in Israel in days of old there were idols in the land. An idol is anything we put above God. The irony is that when we worship the one true God in Jesus and have no other gods before us, we can love and enjoy what he has created, the creature, uninhibited by the slavery and sin which comes from being obsessed with this or that, or something else. Idolatry usually takes the form of more than one god in God’s place. Or maybe one could say a multidimensional rival god.

Sin at its heart may be unbelief, but whatever else it may be, it is surely idolatrous. We are turning to our own way, doing what is right in our own eyes, with little or no regard for the Lord, or the fear of him. I agree with John Calvin when he said that there can be many idols in our heart. He read that from the prophet Ezekiel. We are not loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The best opposite of idolatry would surely be worship of the one true God revealed in Jesus. Paul in Romans 1 contrasts the worship of the creature with the worship of the Creator.

Sex, power and money (not necessarily in that order) seem to be at least among the most prominent idols in the land where I live. That fits well with the Apostle John’s description of the world, referring to the world system: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Usually what is deadly for us is not blatant, but subtle. We deceive ourselves into thinking that it is well with us, when in reality we continue to struggle with some form of idolatry. We in Jesus do sin and we are weak in ourselves. I’m not saying we have to sin at every, or even any turn; we don’t (see for example 1 John 1:5-2:2). But we so easily get caught up in this or that, instead of thanking God for his good gifts, and enjoying them for what they are. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” So very true.

All is of grace and we are weak in ourselves. And so we need to make much of  being “in Christ,” everything depending on him. Not just our standing or position before God, but our practice as well. We need to develop a keen conscience and sensitivity about this, by God’s Spirit attuned to his word. And we do well by faith to take up the words our Lord taught us to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

power hungry

One of the chief differences between Jesus and the world is simply the way of the cross. One of the critiques leveled today at most everyone, certainly at Christians, is that what drives institutions and people is a will to power. People are power hungry, and by their words they seek to manipulate and use others for their own advantage.

Unfortunately the ways of the world easily creep into our hearts, even for us in Jesus since after all we are sinners in the sense that we still have sin in our hearts and lives. We see this played out in history, and I’m afraid in culture in ways which may seem justified to us. The question being do we act and live as those serving, or with an agenda, maybe hidden largely even to us? An agenda to promote us, make us look good and right.

As I’ve been reminded and spoken freshly to on this by an excellent fellow blogger (and professor), there is only one way to avoid this that followers of Jesus are called to: the way of the cross. It’s the way of the cross in Jesus which we’re to follow. A way that is willing in the love of God in Jesus to look defeated, yes to be defeated in the eyes of others. No power in human terms, but weakness. But in that, and in that only we will find, along with the world, God’s power and glory through Jesus.

A disclaimer: I would not judge the person who is the subject of the article in the good blog posting above. Maybe my friend’s application there is correct. But I most certainly concur with his application of the answer which lies only in the way of the cross in Jesus.