Do I Have To?

I remember asking that question when I was a kid. Do I have to clean my room? Do I have to take my medicine? Do I have to do my homework?

Sounds a bit childish doesn’t it?

Yet it seems many questions are wrestling with a similar type of question.

According to a recent Barna Research poll, “…a growing number of Christians don’t see sharing the good news as a personal responsibility.”

According to the study, only 64% of professed Christians saw any need in sharing their faith with others. Is this really what followers of Christ believe?

And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47 ESV

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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6 ESV

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

It would seem those polled would do better reading their Bibles than answering poll questions.

Question:

How often do you share your faith with others?

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You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 1)

You’re probably reading the Bible the wrong way. I did this for years and missed a lot of what God was saying through various parts of the Bible. Parts of it really resonated with me, and parts of it, frankly, I could do without. Then I learned how to look at the Bible as a whole, not little parts put together that were unrelated, but as a complete work. When I did this things began to make far more sense. If this sounds familiar, you may not understand what the Bible is intended to do.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture. Every bit of it. You realize Paul was writing the New Testament as he said this, right? When Jude said that the faith has been delivered “once for all” that the New Testament wasn’t completed? Paul reminds Timothy that from “infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” You realize he’s talking about the Old Testament, right?

So what are we to make of the Bible as a whole? Famed pastor Andy Stanley has recently said Christians need to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament, and that the Ten Commandments don’t apply to Christians. I’ve known many Christians over the years who would say something similar, that the Old Testament has no bearing on us today, citing arguments based on a misreading of Colossians 2:14 and arguments based on the names Old Testament and New Testament, terms which Scripture itself never applies to itself.

I’ve always liked the description that the Bible Project uses when describing the Bible: “Our mission is to show how the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.” Scot McKnight summarizes it this way, “…there is an overarching plot to the Bible–God’s creating the heavens and earth to completing his creation work in the new heavens and new earth.

Over the next few weeks we are going to discuss how we should approach reading and understanding the Bible. It’s a collection of 66 writings – letters, sermons, history, songs, prayers, complaints, warnings and prophecies –  written by over 40 people over a span of 1600 years in three languages on three continents and has a unifying theme that can only be explained by a God behind its writing. And we completely miss it when we try to pick apart the Bible into little nuggets of information rather than viewing Scripture in context of the entirety of God’s Word.

As we approach this study, let us look at the Word with fresh eyes to discover the ancient truths perhaps for the first time, and let us remember that God’s Word never returns empty (Isa. 55:11). When we study the Word, we are blessed in doing so.

Follow Me

Our final Gospel reading for the year comes from the end of John’s Gospel, chapters 20 & 21. I have always loved the personal touches John includes in this section, including the fact that he was a faster runner than Peter (20:4).

One of the interesting debates surrounding this portion of Scripture has to do with the occasion of the writing of chapter 21. It certainly appears that 20:30-31 is the ending of the Gospel. And yet there’s chapter 21. I could bore you with all of the scholarly arguments back and forth, but the truth of the matter is that all early manuscripts of John contain chapter 21. What does this mean? Chapter 21 was written by John as well. It appears that John completed his Gospel with chapter 20, and was then moved by the Spirit to include one more episode in the life of Jesus, likely for the reason given in 21:22-23. It’s an important story with a message we need today!

If you remember in John 18, we see Peter deny Christ three times around a charcoal fire (see 18:18). This so devastated Peter that it appears he had given up on his ability to follow Christ and had returned to fishing (21:3). Jesus performs yet another fishing miracle among them, a clear signal to Peter about who was talking to him, and the disciples come to shore where they find Jesus cooking breakfast, once again around a charcoal fire (21:9). In a way, Jesus has once again placed Peter at a charcoal fire in an effort to give him another chance. Three times Jesus asks Peter to confirm his love for the Savior. Each time Peter does, and each time Jesus invites Peter to feed his sheep, an expression basically telling Peter to act like the pastor he has been called to be. But Jesus also gives Peter an ominous prediction.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – John 21:17-19

Did you notice what just happened? Peter returned to Christ. He has been reinstated, and called to shepherd the flock of believers. As Jesus is calling Peter he basically tells him that the pain and suffering he himself had just endured would also be endured by Peter. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Peter, you too will be crucified. Now follow me.” And the shocking thing is Peter did. Peter followed him! And in case you are wondering, church history tells us that Peter was crucified, but differently than Jesus. Peter claimed he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, so Peter was crucified hanging upside down from the cross.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow him. He calls us to die to ourselves and follow him. He calls us to give up everything, including our own lives to follow him. It’s radical. It’s extreme. It’s Jesus. My question is this: What is Jesus calling you to do that you have not done? Is he calling you to change something in your life? Is he calling you to share the Gospel with a friend? What is he calling you to do that you haven’t done?  Just like Peter, if you have denied him or ignored his call, it’s not to late. He will welcome you back, with open arms. But the call remains: Follow me!

What Jesus Knew and When

The Gospel reading for this week is John chapters 18 & 19. We have one more week to go before we have completed 50 weeks of study on the life and ministry of Jesus. Today we focus on his crucifixion.

John reminds us of several key points as we read his account. Jesus is in complete control the entire time he goes through being arrested, his trials, and his death. Even his surrender to the authorities shows his power (18:6). He is fully aware that all this was happening to fulfill prophecy (18:9). Jesus also knew what he was facing. He predicted the betrayal of Judas (13:21), the denial by Peter (13:38), the manner of his death (12:32-33), and his resurrection (2:21-22).

John also includes a detailed listing of everything that Jesus suffered during this time. He was bound (18:12), he was put on trial in the middle of the night (18:13), he was interrogated (18:19), he was struck in the face (18:22), they kept him awake all night (18:28), they called him a criminal (18:30), they detained him and released Barabbas as well (18:40). They flogged him (19:1), the crowned him with thorns and put a purple robe on his shredded back (19:2), they mocked him and struck him again in the face (19:3), they forced him to carry his cross (19:17), they crucified him (19:18), they killed him (19:30), and they pierced his side with a spear (19:34).

Now, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. If you knew what was coming, would you have gone through this? Knowing everything that was about to unfold, would you have allowed yourself to be treated this way by the very creation that you yourself created? (John 1:1-3) Would you have deemed the human race worthy of saving? Would you willingly humble yourself so much and allow your creation to pummel the life out of your earthly body all the while you have the power to wipe out all creation and start over with just a word?

Jesus did.

Jesus felt you and I were worth the unbearable pain and agony of the cross. If that doesn’t move you to follow him, I don’t know what will. The Creator of all things gave up everything for you. How will you live in light of that? How will you serve him knowing his servant heart through this process? That is the Christian life in a nutshell. We live each day seeking to serve him because of what he did for us on that cross.

As we enter the Christmas celebrations, keep in mind that he willingly came into this world. But that’s not the end of the story. The story of the cross is key to understanding why we follow him. But we must also remember that the story didn’t end at the cross. It continues each day in the lives of his followers until the day he returns. How will you live in light of that?

Kosmos

This week’s reading comes from John 15:26 through the end of chapter 17. Jesus teaches many things during this time concerning his sacrifice, what will happen after he returns to heaven, and how the disciples should live in light of all that is going on. But I’d like to focus on a part of this message that I believe often gets misunderstood. And it’s only one word. Kosmos.

Kosmos is a Greek word that means “world” or “universe.” The word appears 185 times in the New Testament, and 105 of those times are in the writings of John. And Christians have thrown this word (world) around quite a bit when discussing their lives following Christ. In some circles this means if there is something that didn’t originate in the church, then we’re not supposed to be involved with it. “We’re not supposed to be of this world,” or “Have nothing to do with this evil world,” are statements that I have heard in the past. But is that what the Gospels are really calling us to do? To have nothing to do with the lost people we live around?

Kosmos as universe is used by John (1:3, 10, 3:17), but the most significant part of the universe is the place where we humans live, earth (John 16:33). So the word kosmos mainly refers to the persons inhabiting the earth (John 12:19). As you read John’s Gospel  you will notice that the majority of people Jesus encounters oppose his ministry and teaching, so kosmos comes to be associated with those who reject or oppose Jesus. This view of “world” equaling opposition to Christ is unique to the New Testament use of the word (John 1:10, 7:7, 14:17, 17:25, etc.)

When you read passages that say the “world” hates Jesus and his disciples (15:18), and that the followers of Christ are not to “belong to this world,” realize that John is referring to the people that reject Jesus, not the ones who simply don’t know about the truth. Think about these statements: “…the Prince of this world” (12:31, 16:11) = Satan. Christians are not to love “the world” (1 John 2:15-17) = love the lifestyle or actions of those who intentionally reject Christ.

Some will use this misunderstanding of the word “world” to try to tell you not to celebrate Christmas, stating that it’s “worldly” and originated as a “worldy, pagan holiday.” Some research points to a pagan origin for Christmas, other research points to Christmas pre-dating the pagan use of the date. But that really doesn’t matter. Christ came to redeem the world (Titus 2:14, 1 Tim. 2:4). He came to redeem our hearts, our souls, and our actions. Yes Christmas may have some elements that we do not accept (mainly gross commercial consumerism), but God has given us a wonderful opportunity to engage our kosmos.

For one time a year the world is more open to discussing the origins of the Christmas celebration, Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, the Savior of the Kosmos. Don’t miss this opportunity that God has given you! Invite your friends and neighbors to worship times. Speak with them openly about your faith. In doing so you will participate in overcoming the Kosmos. (John 16:33).

Serve Faithfully

This week’s Gospel reading comes from John 13-15:25. This reading is full of huge theological concepts, but I want to focus on one that is seemingly simple, yet so often left undone; serving others. “Serve Faithfully” is one of our Firstfruits (we’ll discuss this on Sunday), and it’s one that is extremely important. Jesus never teaches us to do something that he hasn’t done, so he gives us an example of service.

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (Jn 13:3–5)

Jesus already knew that Judas was going to betray him, yet he dined with him and then washes his feet. In our cultural context this is quite strange, and misunderstood. But in first century Palestine, foot washing was common practice as sandals were the common footwear, and roads were rarely paved. The custom is found all throughout the Old Testament, yet we see very few examples of someone washing someone else’s feet (see 1 Sam. 25:41, Luke 7:44, 1 Tim.5:10). The custom was to provide water for people to wash their own feet, but Jesus goes far beyond that custom and serves his disciples humbly by washing their filthy feet.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (Jn 13:12–17)

Jesus is very clear that his followers should continue this practice of serving one another. It seems that the early church continued the literal practice of washing each others feet (1 Tim. 5:10), but I believe Jesus is using this extreme example to show us just how far he expects us to go in serving one another.

What does foot washing look like in our society? What is a practice so humbling, yet so significant in our culture that Christians ought to be doing for one another to show a Christ-like heart? I honestly don’t know, but I’m not going to stop looking. Followers of Christ should seek to serve one another in humility. We should look for ways to be “washing the feet of the Lord’s people.” This will look different for everyone, but everyone should be doing something.

Bottom line: We are called to live like Christ. He set us an example of humble service to follow. So what are you doing to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ? If you aren’t doing anything, then it’s time to follow your Lord’s example and serve one another.

You Are What You Love – 2018 Blog Tour

Today’s post is part of the 2018 Blog Tour from Thomas Pruett.

I sat across the table with one of my closest friends and mentors, lamenting to him, “Since when did discipleship become only about Bible study?” Later that day, I read this: “You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike; yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”* You’re good, God…

“Would you disciple this person?” I remember asking a mature Christian of a new Christian. “Sure, but I don’t have a lesson plan or a bunch of studies ready,” was the reply. It was a reasonable response, after all, as part of my schooling I was tasked to write a 12-month discipling study; it’s little wonder that many people don’t have that lying around…

“Let’s form a teaching schedule from real-life principles that our teens face, with every lesson geared towards reinforcing that one principle a quarter,” came the cry at the educational curriculum meeting. “But, how do we make sure we teach all of Scripture?” came the earnest, if expected, critique…

“What’d you think of the lesson?” I asked of someone visiting a class taught by one of my favorite in-house Bible teachers. “Fine,” she replied, “but he didn’t use very many verses…” 

For 4 months the fly fishing rod produced no fish but much suffering, yet here in my hand it was again. I had only just learned the (still too thick) line and (way too big) bug to tie on, and so I cast with hope. With barely any knowledge of how or why it would, a hooked trout shook my rod for the first time, and a passion for the sport, nurtured in suffering, was born that continues today. 

In a tradition that emphasizes Bible study as the goal of assembly, a contrast strikes me. Is there value in knowledge and study? Absolutely. But to what end? Often, this leads to assumptions that the more we know, the more God-like we are. Personal experience has taught me that’s vehemently false as a rule. This also assumes humans are mainly thinking beings, and that learning can and will change habits. This is how services and Bible classes are geared, and we lament when those raised to know everything from Scripture fall away. Except we don’t apply this logic to exercise, or on-the-job training, or nutrition, or even fly-fishing. 

Jesus didn’t ask Peter what he knew about Himself in John 21:15, Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Jesus didn’t say in John 14:15 that if you know more about Me you’ll keep My commands, but if you love Me. This isn’t a false dichotomy – what we love is what drives us, motivates us, and orients our life, far more than knowledge alone. We know this because we can know the benefits of exercise all we want, and never do it. We can know that cake is bad for us, and still eat it. And we can know about Jesus without ever truly loving Him. 

What if discipleship was less about learning about Jesus, and more about loving Jesus more? What if church services were less about information and more about transformation? What if our goal was less about making sure the whole Bible is covered and more about covering our whole selves with the love of God seen in Jesus? What if our goal was less a habit of church attendance and more about attending the habits of the church that lead us to be more, or less, like Jesus? What if we spent less time learning about being a Christian, and more time living like Jesus? 

Bible study is essential, no doubt. Should the whole Bible be taught and preached? Absolutely. But knowledge alone isn’t the thing which will keep Christians faithful. Simply knowing about your spouse isn’t what keeps you married. Love: what you love, whom you love, and why you love, is what God is after – that you desire Him above all else, and orient your life to keep Him oriented as your goal. We’re not to know as Christ knew, are to love as Christ loved.

Four months of habitual fishless fly-fishing that finally produced one fish lead to a passion, one that then produced a love to learn more, fish more, and do what was needed to transform into a better fly-fisher. If a tiny little trout could produce that much life-change in the hobbies of a man, where could truly discipling, not just teaching, someone to where they catch the smallest glimmer of true Christ-likeness in themselves lead? Perhaps, just perhaps, it could lead to truly becoming what we love. In one case, an able fly-fisher. I’ll take Christ over a trout every day. 

 * Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (p. 5). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.