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!

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FIRST THINGS FIRST – 2018 Blog Tour

Rob Sparks is a Jesus follower, a father and husband, a nerd, and a paper pusher. He worships and serves with the Fernvale Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee and occasionally blogs at robrsparks.wordpress.com

FIRST THINGS FIRST

A long time ago, our friend Augustine talked about disordered loves. His contention was things tend to be good in and of themselves but the way we often use those good things is problematic. God created these things, after all – and he called them very good – but these good things were created within an order and with purpose. God’s good creation was meant to work a certain way. So our problem, Augustine says, is that we get our loves out of order. We neglect some things while trying to use other things to do more than they were ever meant to do.

I think there’s a lot of truth to what Augustine is laying on us here. I think about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-21. He bookends this teaching with dual warnings about being careful where we look for our treasures and rewards. Don’t give or pray or fast to impress people. (This was a culture, after all, where giving, praying, and fasting carried major social capital.) If that’s where we’re placing our worth and identity we’ll get our reward, but be careful: those neighbors we’ve worked so hard to impress with our shows of generosity, pious prayers, and righteous displays of fasting simply cannot bear the weight our bid for approval, worth, and meaning places on them. Investing ourselves in such storehouses inevitably leads to loss because, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal.”

Augustine reminds us it’s not that our neighbors are bad – or even that we should avoid their approval. Rather, when we make the approval and validation of our neighbors the locus of our worth and identity, the place where we store our treasures, we’ve gotten things out of order. We look for something from our neighbors they cannot possibly deliver in any meaningful way. Only God can. It is only in rooting who we are in God’s estimation of us that we can hope to find lasting worth and meaning and identity. This is “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus ends by reminding us our hearts will follow our treasures. Another way of saying that is this: You will spend your life chasing the treasure you seek. More, other friends as diverse as Aristotle, Aquinas, and James KA Smith remind us that it is in this chase that we become who we are. The chase forms us, for good or ill.

What am I seeking? That’s the question we’ve been assigned to ponder and I spend a lot of time doing that. I too often recognize the ways I chase the wrong sorts of treasure – when I place too much stock in whether or not my friends and neighbors think I’m funny or smart or successful or good. I’ve had to deal with all the ways I’ve hitched my identity to being a vocational minister, and I’ve had to figure out what I’m worth now that I’m not that anymore. More, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that pursuing those treasures has often made me a more selfish person because it’s hard to both love and use my neighbors to satisfy my own neurotic needs. The only path forward I’ve discovered is to begin putting those loves back in order. This is, after all, the way Jesus showed us.

What do I seek? It has to be God. I stink at the pursuit. I struggle with it. I often get sidetracked and turned around. But, nothing else will do. Nothing else can.

Regaining the search for the Search – 2018 Blog Tour

I’m excited to share with you a guest post from John Dobbs as part of our 2018 Blog Tour. Our theme for this year is “What are you seeking?” 

John Dobbs is the preaching minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ (http://facoc.org) in Monroe, Louisiana. He can be found on Facebook, followed on Twitter (@johndobbs) and read on his blog (http://johndobbs.com). He’s been married for 31 years to the lovely Maggy. He has two children and two grandchildren. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I do!

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

“Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today. “This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.” Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes’ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this? Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

“I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.” ― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. -Hebrews 11:6 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely? How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit?

I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics. Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free. Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us? What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve. Have I been quiet? No tv, no small screens, just me and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.) Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside? Contemporary Christian group Building 429 sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.

 Resources:
Overstimulated And Overwhelmed: Sensory Overload, Anxiety, And Depression http://www.yoursunshine.org/overstimulated-and-overwhelmed-sensory-overload-anxiety-and-depression/

Jesus is Lord!

This week’s reading comes from Luke 6 – 7:30. A good portion of chapter 6 is Luke’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Since we discussed that in our study of Matthew, I’m going to focus on three other passages within our reading.

The fourth commandment called for a day of Sabbath rest. The command indicates that just as God created the world in 6 days and rested (literally stopped the creation work he had been doing) on the 7th day. While Israel was in the wilderness gathering manna, they were to gather for 6 days (collecting an extra day’s worth for the 7th) because on the 7th there would be none. Israel still looked for manna on the 7th day. I believe God did this because he wanted his people to rest, and to trust in God for provision. We often work so hard that we only trust in ourselves. If God was not faithful the people would have starved, but God is faithful and can be trusted. The command simply indicates it is a day of rest and no work should be done. The Israelites then created rules defining what work was.

Jesus (who had the authority of God to rightly interpret and apply the commands) and his disciples pick some heads of grain and ate them. This was against the rules. Jesus also heals a man with a lame right hand. Since the man’s life was not in danger this healing act again broke the rules. It seems that the Pharisees here had almost idolized the Sabbath because even doing good was considered wrong by them! Jesus gives an example of David who ate the Bread of Presence in the tabernacle and violated the law, but he did so not out of impure motives, but out of doing good for himself and his men (1 Sam. 21:1-6). Jesus said this concerning the healing: “I ask you which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Lk. 6:9) Jesus indicates that he is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Lk. 6:5) and that doing good did not violate the Sabbath. Jesus had authority to overrule their beliefs about the Sabbath.

Jesus then chooses 12 apostles from among his many disciples. I want to look at two names (Lk. 6:15): Matthew (a tax collector for the Roman government) and Simon who was called the Zealot (who was a sworn enemy of anything related to the Roman government.) In any other context, Simon would have considered it his God-given duty to kill Matthew because of his association with Rome. Truly following Jesus should remove all barriers between us and other believers. Jesus is Lord even over our relationships.

The last we’ll look at is the faith of the Roman centurion. This man was a Gentile who was very kind to the Jewish people. It seems the Jews actually liked the centurion which is highly unusual (Lk. 7:4-5). The centurion had such faith in Jesus that he indicates (through messengers) that he believed Jesus could heal his servant from wherever he was; there was no need for Jesus to come physically to the servant. Luke tells us: “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’”  This is one of only two times in Scripture that indicate Jesus was amazed and it was because of the centurion’s belief in the healing power of Jesus.

May we all place Jesus as Lord over our beliefs, over our relationships, and may we truly trust in His healing power in our lives. – Matt

What I Wish Everyone Knew About Hope

Genesis 1:1–2 (NIV): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Isn’t that powerful? That’s the way the Bible begins. But that story isn’t over. Do you see those words “formless” and “empty?” They can also be translated as “chaos” and “desolation” respectively.

“Now the earth was chaos and desolation, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Sounds more like our world today, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: God’s Spirit is still hovering over the waters. God is still active and alive. His Spirit is not dead, or hiding in witness protection somewhere. It’s here with us to this day (John 14:6). And because of this we can have hope. Honestly, He’s our only hope.

This is what we will be talking about at East Side starting this week and going throughout the summer months. I hope you will join us in person, or online through podcasts or live stream as we rediscover the God who is with us and in his believers to help us navigate the chaos and desolation of this world.

Blessings! – Matt

A Faith that Does

These series of posts are directly linked to our read through Gospels this year. If you haven’t started, but would like to join us you can download the reading/devotional list by clicking here.

In Mark 3 we are discovering two groups of people who have opposing views of Jesus. The crowds that follow Jesus love him because of his teachings, and miracles. They are amazed by the power of God displayed through him. We read in verse 8 that this was a very diverse crowd from all over the region. They believed in him and his message, and even the demons acknowledged him as the Son of God. (11)

Then we meet the religious leaders of the day. They refuse to see the good in what Jesus is doing, and only seem to notice that he isn’t doing things the way they have always been done. He perfectly keeps the law, but interprets it differently than they have. Of course Jesus is right in what he’s doing, but they can’t see that. Jesus asks them in verse 4:

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill?” – Mark 3:4

In general, Jewish teachers during this time taught that anything that could be done before the Sabbath should not be done on the Sabbath. But they did accept life-saving procedures, and important medical treatments for the wellbeing of the patient as well. Jesus here is acknowledging their rules…actually he’s playing by them, but they still have issue. Notice that verse 4 indicates “…they remained silent.” It appears they really didn’t want Jesus to heal this man. Perhaps they felt that professing faith in God and not changing the status quo were more important.

Jesus challenges this type of assumption at the end of chapter 3 by saying “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” In other words, you’re my family if you do God’s will. Then Jesus gives us examples of doing God’s will. He tells the Parable of the Sower in which we all should identify as a type of soil, but we are also the sower. We need to improve the soil of our lives, but at the same time we need to be slinging the seeds of the kingdom anywhere we can…even to the undesirable soil! This is a faith that does. Then Jesus compares our faith to a lamp on a stand. A lamp is worthless unless it gives light. This is a faith that does. The Parable of the Growing Seed couches us as the sower again. We need to throw seed. God will make the seed grow (and does today in the lives of many in our community), and we need to be sure we’re ready to harvest it as it is ready. After all, crops that aren’t harvested die in the field. This is a faith that does. Jesus gives us another view of the kingdom. Even though it’s as small as a mustard seed, it will grow to be a large fruitful plant. We’ve already been told to grow the kingdom. This is a faith that does.

And then we have the disciples on the boat with Jesus. He is asleep as a “furious squall” batters their boat. The disciples are afraid, but Jesus was not.

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:39-40

Instead of panicking like the disciples, Jesus remained calm in the storm. This is a faith that does. Jesus then has the power to calm the storm. And this is who we have faith in! We are called to have a faith that is full of action, good deeds, and seeks to spread that faith everywhere we can. And we’re called to do this because of our faith in Christ. We must obey him because: “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Faith in What?

This week’s Gospel reading comes from Matthew chapters 12 & 13.

On Sunday Jalen and I addressed the topic of Faith in Our Families as part of our Grow in Faith sermon series. In that sermon I stated the following: “Everybody has faith…the question is faith in what?” This is the main question that Jesus addresses in Matthew 12.

The story begins with Jesus and his disciples picking heads of grain as they walk through a wheat field. If you’ve ever been in a wheat field you’ll know instantly how simple this is to do. You simply snap the head off with your hand as you walk along…you aren’t lifting, twisting, pulling, etc. Now the reason this had become an issue is this was being done on a Sabbath, and the Law of Moses did not allow working on the Sabbath day (Ex. 31:13-14, 35:2).

The big kicker here is how Pharisees interpreted “work.” You and I often do things around the house on a day off that we wouldn’t consider to be work, however the Pharisees had set themselves up as the ultimate interpreter of God’s word. They felt that they, and they alone had the right to enforce what work was or was not. Scripture did prohibit preparing food on the Sabbath (Ex. 16:22-30; 35:3), but Jewish people often had great feasts on the Sabbath where the food had been prepared the previous day. They created all of these very strict laws of interpretation as to what constituted as work or not. It even extended to medical issues, as can be seen in verses 10-14. The most extreme rule surrounding the Sabbath observance I have found surrounded eating eggs laid on a Sabbath. You shouldn’t do so because the chicken had to work to lay it. However, they said that you could eat the egg which had been laid on the Sabbath as long as you killed the chicken for Sabbath-breaking.

Do you see what has happened here? The Pharisees have put their faith in their ability to follow rules…rules that God never created. And they’re imposing the following of those rules as a judgement of righteousness upon others. The Pharisees had substituted their faith in God’s promised salvation for faith in their ability to follow strict legalistic self imposed rules. And Jesus’ response comes from an Old Testament reference: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Mt. 12:7) The passage Jesus quotes is from Hosea 6:6. Jesus only quotes part of the verse, but I will share the whole verse: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Notice that Jesus quotes a verse that is all about acknowledging God rather than external actions. This was the biggest sin of the Pharisees.

When we try to put our faith in ourselves and our own abilities rather than God’s promise of salvation in the person of Jesus, we become just like the Pharisees…looking really good, but dead on the inside (Mt. 23:27).

For teaching on other parts of Matthew 12 & 13, you can watch or listen to the following sermons on our website:

Matt-