What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Yesterday I was sitting amongst a group of people desiring to be more involved in their neighborhoods – how to better love our neighbors. I believe those sitting around the tables all had the desire to better live into what Jesus said the most important commandments in all of Scripture were. Briefly, let me give the context.

In Matthew 22:34-40 this scenario occurs:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus was the perfect example of this. He lived a life that exemplified living into these commandments wholly. As we talked about what loving our neighbors looks like practically for us, people who are not perfect by any means, a question arose:

“What does it mean to follow Jesus?” 

People went around the room and said what they thought it means. Eventually my wife gave an answer that she and I had just discussed the day before.

When it comes to Christians not wanting to seem judgmental, but still not approving of a certain “lifestyle” or action people often use the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s one of those phrases that sounds nice, but just doesn’t work. There are a number of problems with the idea that we can truly separate the two.

My wife and I had come across a comment made on Facebook from a non-Christian summarizing what they understood Christianity was supposed to be all about. We both agreed that the person seemed to hit the nail right on the head, and decided that we probably couldn’t have said it any better ourselves. So when the time came, my wife spoke up to the group and summed it up what it means to follow Jesus by using the same words from that person on Facebook:

“Love the sinner; hate your own sin.”

 

Flight or Fight?

It seems anymore that Christians love to pick fights. It may not be the Crusades, but the battles being fought today still seem to be devastatingly harmful and unfounded (and should be extremely embarrassing for the Church). The rhetoric I hear seems to explain these fights and battles as necessary for the defense of doctrine and good Christian values. Perhaps what is most ridiculous about this, is that it seems that Christians have just as much internal fighting as they do with the secular world.

While some tend to love to always be eager to fight for what they believe, others tend to run from any sort of conflict. In doing this they tend to hide from any challenges to their faith or worldview, refusing to be challenged or questioned.

Both seem to be problematic. When times of high criticism come or when people start putting up their dukes in regards to faith or values, people tend to respond in the adrenaline induced instinct of either fight or flight.

My new pastor, Bill Shereos,  recently said something I thought was pretty profound regarding this topic:

If you find yourself fighting or fleeing, you need to assess your heart and see if you are motivated by faith or fear.”

And that’s the problem today – it seems that most of the fights that I see happening in regards to doctrine or values seem to be motivated by FEAR. It can be a fearful thing to have your beliefs challenged. We live out our lives based on the values that come from our beliefs. If we find out that our values or beliefs are wrong, that means that the very foundation that we build our lives upon is faulty. And that’s a scary place to find oneself. People will go to great lengths to try and deny that their foundation is faulty. They will attack brutally if necessary. They will run far, far away if it suits them. But I’ve said before a number of times on my blog, if we truly believe that all truth is God’s truth, and we work from that foundation, then if we find out a value or belief we once thought was true is actually false, then we can realign ourselves in confidence, not fear, because the Christian journey is one where we are constantly trying to understand God’s truth and live into that truth. It is healthy to recognize that there are different levels of importance when it comes to Christian doctrine. There is dogma – that which minimally defines what Christianity is. There is doctrine – interpretations of Scripture which define the various faith traditions. There is opinion – interpretations and inferences that you or a smaller group of believers hold to that are not clearly defined in Scripture.

Christians will fight seemingly over anything. Churches split over differences of opinion, denominations are born over differences of doctrine, and people over the centuries have been killed because of not aligning themselves with the dogma of the Church. All of these scenarios are lamentable. Christians are supposed to be known by their love for all people and their faith in an merciful, loving God. But it seems like today Christians are known for their fighting, stubbornness, and fear of change.

When we find ourselves getting defensive, or perhaps wanting to just run away from an issue, maybe we should ask ourselves if we are wanting to fight or flee because of fear. Challenges to our faith are not times to fight or flee, they are times to learn and grow. Sometimes that just requires shutting up, remaining humble, and listening with a desire of understanding how we can better live into God’s truth and live loving others better.

A Good Statement on Friendship

A Good Statement on Friendship

I’m currently taking a class entitled “Gender Issues in Counseling” and we were assigned to read a book that is specifically addressed to the opposite gender. So all the men in the class read a book that was written with a woman audience in mind. All the women read a book written for men. It’s a way to hear what is being written on the popular broadly evangelical level for specific genders. Usually these books are minimally helpful and perpetuate issues between the genders. However, I think I chose a pretty decent book. It is called Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices.

I could list a whole bunch of quotes from the book that I find to be incredibly insightful or even convicting, but I was delighted to read a few places in which they really focus on the importance of friendship in one’s life. I couldn’t agree more and it has been somewhat of a soapbox issue for me in times past. We devalue the role of intimate friendships and idolize the marriage relationship. Anyway, here’s a brief passage from the book that I liked:

Yet, ironically and sadly, if anything, friendship is undervalued and even suspected at times. The broader American culture and the evangelical subculture have almost made a god of marriage and family; young people are pressured early to “get going” in this direction. One of my students said, “We’re told generally that it’s important to have friends, but no one talks about the value of lasting friendships.” She added, “Everyone talks about ‘authentic community’ but the specific benefits of friendship are not included in the discussion.” In fact, as another young woman noted, “friendship is not even addressed; everything else seems to be more important.” It is no wonder then that one often sees women diminishing, neglecting, and even dropping their friendships with other women for the sake of their dating lives, putting a pressure and expectation on the dating process it cannot sustain or may even be crippled by. How often I have heard girls tell me that they seldom see a good friend anymore because “she’s dating.” And too often, women accept that loss because it has come to seem appropriate, even expected. Friendship is sacrificed to the culturally prioritized romantic relationship, not appreciated for the inestimable contribution it makes to a fully realized life.

Affirming the problem, Eugene Peterson writes that “friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.” Peterson then refers to the much-addressed friendship between David and Jonathan and says that it was “essential to David’s life.” In fact, he adds, “It’s highly unlikely that David could have persisted in serving Saul without the friendship of Jonathan…. Jonathan’s friendship entered David’s soul in a way that Saul’s hatred never did.”

Friends have been true mirrors to me, showing me myself, reflecting back to me an ugly spot in my soul, and reminding me of something good I had thought or done when I couldn’t remember. Friends have told me the truth about a direction I was headed or a relationship I had chosen. They have brought me back from the brink of disaster. Friends have prayed for me faithfully when I was sick, when I was overwhelmed by too great a task. Friends have written notes at just the right time, made a phone call, or come for a visit. With friends I have had the great conversations of my life. Those friends have been younger, older, and my age; few of them have had the same education or occupation as I have. More than anything, my best friends have always been mutual, receiving and giving, listening and talking, and above all remembering—remembering what is important to me and asking the right questions. I am fortunate to have a number of friendships still present in my life that go back decades, some of them to my childhood, a number to my young adulthood. They call to mind my history, the geography of my life’s events, and more important, they preserve the map of my mind and spirit.”

De Rosset, Rosalie (2012-07-24). Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices (Kindle Locations 2510-2532). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Selected Quotes from “On Mercy and Justice”

Selected Quotes from “On Mercy and Justice”

he following text, often attributed to St. Basil the Great, is now regarded by some scholars as the work of one of Basil’s followers. This translation is the work of C. Paul Schroeder and is included in his collection of St. Basil’s writings On Social Justice.

“The world that forgets God, brothers and sisters, is ruled by injustice toward neighbors and inhumanity toward the weak.”

“Just as the Prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, taught, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” (Is 1:16-17) The Mosaic Law also contained many commandments regarding not harming one’s neighbor, as well as many precepts enjoining kindness and mercy. If someone abandons the practice of the one, the other will not suffice for that person’s restoration. Acts of charity made from unjust gains are not acceptable to God, nor are those who refrain from injustice praiseworthy if they do not share what they have. It is written concerning those who commit injustice and then attempt to offer gifts to God, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” (Prov 15:8) With regard to those who fail to show mercy, however, it says, “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.” (Prov 21:13)

It is for this reason that Proverbs instructs, “Honor the Lord with your just labors, and offer as first fruits your righteous works.” (Prov 3:9 LXX) But if you plan to make an offering to God out of the fruits of injustice and exploitation, you should know that it would be better for you neither to possess such things nor to make any offering from them. A pure gift gives wings to prayer; as it is written, “The prayers of the upright are acceptable to God.” (Prov 3:9 LXX) Conversely, if you possess what you have as a result of just labor, yet make no offerings to God for the support of the poor, exploitation is reckoned against you, according to what was spoken by the prophet Malachi, “The first fruits and tithes remain in your possession, and the gains of exploitation shall be in your house.” (Mal 3:8, 10 LXX)”

“It is therefore necessary for you to blend mercy and justice, possessing with justice and dispensing with mercy, according to what is written, “Preserve mercy and justice, and ever draw near to God.” (Hos 12:6 LXX) God loves mercy and justice; therefore, the one who practices mercy and justice draws near to God. It follows that every person should make a thorough self-examination. The rich should carefully consider their means, from which they intend to make offerings, in order to make certain that they have not wielded power over the poor, or used force against the weak, or committed extortion against those in a subordinate position.”

“Mercy does not come from injustice, nor blessing from a curse, nor goodness from tears. God says to those who cause the tears of the oppressed, “What I hate, you do; you cover my altar with tears, weeping and groaning.” (Mal 2:13 LXX) Show mercy from your own earnings, and not from injustice; do not even think of bringing unjust gains to God under the pretext of showing mercy. Such displays are empty glory.”

“This is the reason we perform works of mercy: in order to receive back mercy from God. God gives back to those he approves, and he approves no greedy person. Gifts offered to God are no gifts at all if in acquiring them you have made your brother or sister sorrowful. The Lord says, “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Lk 19:9)”

“If such commands were given to those under the Law, what shall we say of those who are in Christ? To them the Lord says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20) For this reason, the Apostle exhorts us to give to those who have nothing not only out of our crops and produce, but also from the works of our hands. “Do good work with your hands, so that you may have something to give to those in need.” (Eph 4:28)”

“These things should be a constant reminder to us; we should place them before the very eyes of our soul, so that we may not neglect the opportune moment, nor pass over the present time, waiting for some other chance, lest we should be lost in the end on account of our hesitation and delaying. May the Lord grant that we may be found fruitful and vigilant, mindful of his commands, ready and unimpeded at his glorious appearing; in Christ himself our God, to whom be glory, might, and honor, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always, and forever and ever.”

Selected Quotes from “On Mercy and Justice” on my Tumblr page

We Receive So That We Might Give

We Receive So That We Might Give

A simple concept that arises frequently in the Bible is that we receive various blessings so that we might be able to give and share our blessings with others, whether it be love, wisdom, comfort, money, food, or labor. If we care about those around us, we will not hoard the various riches that we receive or even earn through good hard work. We work so that we might give to those in need.

Continue reading “We Receive So That We Might Give”

Jesus’ Understanding of God’s Will in the Book of Luke

When Luke speaks of the will of God, he uses the word δεῖ. It is found 101 times in the New Testament. Luke uses it 41 times in Luke-Acts, with 14 of those occurrences being found in Luke. This word is typically understood as being translated “it is necessary” or that something “must” happen. Luke’s use of the word is by far the most comprehensive in the New Testament. It is through his use of the word that one can conclude that it intends to imply the will of God.

This is significant as one looks at the 14 uses of δεῖ in Luke. God’s will is seemingly His will as found in the law, or in the Old Testament in general. Throughout Jesus’s ministry on earth, He tells his disciples that He “must” suffer, be delivered and crucified as a fulfillment of the Scriptures (9:22; 17:25; 24:7, 26; 24:44). It is interesting to note that Jesus did have an understanding of the necessity of following God’s will from an early age. Luke is the only one to give us a peek at this time in Jesus’ life, so it is significant to note. When Jesus was twelve years old, he stayed back in the temple in Jerusalem without the knowledge of Mary and Joseph. When Mary and Joseph came back looking for Him, Mary asked, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:48-49, emphasis added). Jesus was well aware of the will that God the Father had for his life even from a young age.

This is not the only time that Jesus’ actions were dictated by His understanding of God’s will and the role it played in His understanding of what His own purpose was on earth. After spending time in Galilee and at Simon’s house, Jesus had done many miracles. He left to go to a solitary place, but people came and found Him, begging Him to stay. But Jesus replied, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (4:43, emphasis added).

Jesus, lamenting the history of Jerusalem, tells some Pharisee’s who warn him that Herod wants to kill him that He will continue to heal people and to cast out demons, but he “must” press on to Jerusalem. (13:32-33). Later, Jesus also tells Zacchaeus that he “must” stay at his house (19:5).

Perhaps the greatest link to Luke’s understanding of δεῖ is God’s will for Jesus’ suffering. Soon after Peter’s confession that Jesus is “God’s Messiah” (9:20), Jesus tells them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” He tells his disciples a similar thing in 17:25, that “He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

After Jesus resurrected from the grave, He appeared to His disciples and reminded them of what He had told them about it being necessary for Him to “be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again” (24:7). On the road to Emmaus Jesus rebukes and explains to the saddened men something they should have known: that “the Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory.” (24:26).

After Jesus had explained that there was coming a time when the temple was to be destroyed, the disciples asked about how they could know when these events were about to take place. Jesus responded that there would be claims by false Messiahs, wars, and uprisings. He told them when these things happen to “not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away” (21:9, emphasis added).

Luke portrays Jesus intentionally living in the necessity of God’s will. He was constantly mindful about God’s will – that He was to preach the Good News, obey the law of the Old Testament, die a sinless man, and be resurrected in power for mankind on the third day.