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.

 

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regaining our focus away from politics or what not

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

John Dickson’s chapter entitled “Christ” in his helpful book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus underscores the fact that Jewish anticipation of God’s promise of the Messiah from scripture, and Jesus’s fulfillment of such did not match. They wanted someone who would bring military victory against their enemies, and through that, implement a peace, meaning, shalom, which would cover the entire earth. Jesus’s fulfillment was completely unanticipated, and in fact, an affront to their understanding. All crucified Messiahs were proven impostors, and after all, didn’t scripture say that all who were hung on a tree were under God’s curse? And yes, that was true of Jesus, but in a remarkably different way than they surmised. Under God’s curse so as to remove that curse through his death to bring salvation and blessing to the world. But it was the way of the cross, never of the power of worldly kingdoms and government. Read the gospels, Matthew through John, to verify this along with the rest of the New Testament.

We are at a fever pitch right now in the United States over politics, quite divided to say the least, and it seems like we’ve fallen into the fray as badly as the rest. We believe in political power. But in so doing, aren’t we doing what Jesus was actually getting at: forfeiting our souls, even as Satan tempted Jesus to do when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, offered to Jesus if he would only worship Satan.  Of course Jesus dispelled that immediately, interestingly on the basis of scripture, quoting the passage where it tells Israel (and us) that we’re to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only. But also implicit in that is the reality that God’s kingdom in Jesus is not of this world, and in fact, though down to earth, is from another place, of a higher, heavenly realm, just as Jesus said elsewhere.

We need to get a grip in realizing that no matter what happens in American politics, or elsewhere, our life and good depends on God’s promise in Jesus and the gospel. Not just for us, but for the world, we bearing witness to that. That can take a tremendous weight off our hearts. We live for Christ and the gospel, and if need be die for that. And we depend on that. Nothing else.

That doesn’t mean that none of us can serve in political places of this world. Daniel did. But like Daniel, they will likely face opposition and trouble as they live for and with God’s kingdom in view. Not an easy road to take, either. Complete commitment to Christ and the gospel must accompany that.

We pray for those in positions of governing authority, and hope for the good of our nation, and all other nations. And living in a democratic republic or nation like the United States, we participate in the political process as we feel led. But we remember that whatever happens anywhere in the world, while it may bear great and even grave consequences, to be sure, we in Jesus live by and for one thing: God’s word, the message of God’s good news in Jesus for us and for the world. Anything else we’re involved in only in light of and in submission to that. In and through Jesus.

 

all for Jesus and the gospel

Then [Jesus] 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.

Mark 8

There is nothing more key or central to our lives, we who are in Jesus, than our devotion to Jesus and the gospel. That is central in loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, including even loving our enemies, as Jesus taught.

It’s all too easy to lose this focus, and get all wrapped up in necessary things. And we’re trying to love God and our neighbor in the process, but often more or less muddled up, hardly free enough to do so. What we need is a single eye, as in a heart set on faithfulness to Jesus and the good news of God in him. That is when the Spirit will take hold of us, and help us to truly live. It is a life brimming over and full of love, God’s love. But of course, it’s not easy. As Jesus points out here, it’s the way of the cross. And that’s not set aside after Jesus’s death and resurrection. Paul makes that clear, and others as well, both in their writings, and from the witness of their lives. While it isn’t easy, it is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy through the Holy Spirit.

When I’m in the dark, the Spirit can lead me into this light. A decent question to ask, which yes, has its limitations, but it is good for prayerful consideration: What would Jesus do? Jesus by the Spirit lives in us now. Our whole lives at home and everywhere else are meant to point others to him. And while we live, Christ also is our life, and the one who lives through us, even us with all our mistakes and problems along the way. But as we seek to live in him, he makes himself known not only to us, but to others. And it’s the love of Christ which not only compels us, but changes us through and through, so that we can become more and more like him, hopefully over time.

It’s never about us, but about Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. That is where we find our real, true life. And the light and love which goes with it. In and through Jesus.

holding on to wisdom

“Now then, my children, listen to me;
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
Listen to my instruction and be wise;
    do not disregard it.
Blessed are those who listen to me,
    watching daily at my doors,
    waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life
    and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
    all who hate me love death.”

Proverbs 8:32-36

Lady wisdom speaks to us in Proverbs, in words which we all desperately need. Too often though, we simply think because we read the words, and agree with it in our head, that all is okay. But those words, and that truth must seep into our hearts, and change our lives. And that takes time.

Wisdom is desperately needed all the way around. From the beginning in the reverential fear of God, to the end, and all times in between. We will fail sometimes in following wisdom, and reap something of the consequences, but even then we need wisdom from God to know what to do, and what not to do. Trust in God is paramount, which means depending on both God’s word and God’s Spirit. And being interdependent on God’s people.

We need to seek and embrace wisdom for all it’s worth. This needs to be a passion in our lives. And we’ll find our way to it through utter dependence on God in the midst of real life. Not in a vacuum somewhere off in an ivory tower. God wants to teach us wisdom right where we live, in real life. After all, that’s what wisdom is for.

We need to keep at it, not thinking we will arrive, but in pursuit of it our entire lifetime. Believing that God will faithfully and generously provide it to us as we ask for it as needed (James 1). And finding it most of all in Jesus, who is wisdom from God to us, even in the way of the cross (1 Corinthians 1). For all of us, yes, everyone, 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.

nonviolent love

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5

One of the great legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is his call for nonviolent love. They practiced that amidst all the hate they encountered. They practiced a soul force as it was called, and regularly engaged in prayer and acted in love in the face of violence and hate. And in so doing, they followed the way of our Lord, who prayed for his enemies when he was nailed to the cross.

Do we know what it is to love in the face of evil? Like Dr. King said, it’s not an affectionate love, but rather a principled agape love, the love of God which is committed to the good of the enemy, for their redemption as one of God’s own into the family. So that they might become friends, and brothers and sisters.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this, it’s true: we can utterly hate the deeds of someone, yet love that person. There is always hope in God, that somehow that person will come to repentance and faith and be delivered from their own evil through Jesus. But it’s not easy. Grace helps us, but doesn’t make the difficult places a cakewalk. But the same love from God which puts up with us, we’re to extend to others, to everyone, yes to our enemies. Following Jesus, in and through him.

 

Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.