Choose Jesus’ way

Jesus talks of how we choose to receive His word. An emphasis on visible results has pushed us towards –

The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.

Results are easy! We can count green shoots of decisions and boast of fruitfulness. But easy come brings easy go –

But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

Noticing the failure trailing this approach, many abandoned the focus on decisions for a journey into the Christian life. This sounds good, but the thorny issues of life are not dealt with in repentance. So –

The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

Protecting ourselves and others from Jesus’ cross is producing a fruitless faith. There is however another choice –

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Mat 13:18-23 (NIV 1984)

Jesus is clear about what this choice involves–

…  unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24

Let’s choose Jesus’ way!

Christmas without limits?

Christmas is often expressed as a time to live without limits. John the Baptist challenges our generation with its rejection of boundaries. We don’t think to ask “Who has God made me to be?” but rather, “What could I make of myself?” John the Baptist knew who he wasn’t.

He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ John 1:19-20

God had shown John who he was, and he was content with that –

 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ John1:23

In our society it never occurs to us that there could be a limit. We want the biggest, the best, the most, … Christians have christened this value to become: Having the biggest church, Having a strategy that will take the world for Jesus Christ, … Another name for this value is greed and with spiritual clothes it becomes spiritual greed.

The godly value that opposes greed is contentment. Paul writes

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” 1 Timothy6:6

John the Baptist did not go to the crowds in Jerusalem, but risked all on the passage the Lord had given him. He went to the wilderness. John was content to depend on God to fulfil the ministry He intended.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:6

Am I willing to receive the delightful inheritance God has given me with its boundaries?

Being human

What does it mean to be human? I find Jesus’ take shocking. When I survey our culture’s opinions I see anything from a triumphalistic ‘Top of the heap’ to ‘A virus wreaking destruction’. For many Christians, people are made in the image of God, and so to be respected.

My shock came looking at the logic of Philippians 2:7, starting at the end.

… he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness.

Firstly, Jesus was made in human likeness.  Then going back, I read ‘the very nature of a servant …’ The implication is that the nature of a human being is to be a servant! I am shocked! We live in a culture that exalts freedom, yet our nature is to be a servant.

The fact is our nature is seen in our attitudes. We use freedom to pursue our passions, yet we become servants to whatever we exalt. If I exalt money, I become a slave to money. If I lift up family, I become a slave to family.

These false masters destroy us as we pursue them and their dream turns out bankrupt. When I pursue Jesus, He leads me down a path that fulfils. He said,

‘If you hold to my teaching you are truly my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ John 8:32

Jesus’ teaching is love. When I pursue Him, He frees me to serve in love, and I discover I am loved.

 

 

A more detailed study in Philippians 2 – ‘Who are we before God?’

 

What counts?

How poorly I appreciate the unseen work of Christ. I recently organised a conference. There was a sense of God at work, one person even said it was the best conference they had ever been to. Yet looking back I experience frustration that only half the expected number turned up.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Looking for visible impact I slip away from Christ. In Portugal He spent six years showing me numbers were irrelevant. How easy to revert to type after returning to a culture fixated with measurables. This road leads to a pressure to justify cost effectiveness where the desire to impress, or merely justify, leads to abuse of those entrusted to me. It won’t be through circumcision, but elevating what is secondary and what is elevated becomes idolatrous and abusive. In Paul’s day it was all about bringing people into Judaism; he writes,

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. (Galatians 6:12)

Such abuse is to no avail, for what counts is the transformation that only Christ sees.

15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

I live in a world where what is counted is supreme so, being human, I will struggle! However, I trust Jesus who promises –

16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.

 

The background study can be found in ‘Circumcision for now

Keys to the Kingdom

When what we say lifts Jesus as God and acknowledges ourselves as servants then we have the keys of Kingdom. When speaking in independence we lose them. Spiritual authority is based on submission to Jesus, ‘Son of the living God.’

In Matthew 16 following Peter’s confession:

16 …, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

Jesus states:

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

It seems Jesus gave Peter Carte Blanche; whatever he says goes. So, many believers pray believing they will get what is asked with an authoritative voice. However Peter immediately uses this authority and is rebuffed –

23 …  ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’

Isaiah 33:5-6 coming from a different angle illuminates –

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; … He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah lifts up the Lord, as Peter has, great things are promised on the basis of the fear of the Lord. If I put this thinking into Matthew 16 I see Jesus saying, while you acknowledge Me as God and take Me seriously, then you have the keys of the kingdom.

 

For the complete study – Key to the Kingdom

Entrust to mercy

A living sacrifice does not pick it’s sacrifices, nor determine the cost. A living sacrifice is ready to die to self. If I am to walk yoked with Jesus in step with Him, then I cannot choose the bits of the journey I want. In essence, I am throwing myself at the mercy of God.

When an opportunity is presented to me my reaction is to evaluate the cost against my capacity and decide if I can fulfil what is being offered. While this approach is generally appropriate and eminently Biblical (Luke 14:28), I sense at this time The Lord’s challenge for me personally, is different.

Therefore brothers, in view of God’s mercy, I urge you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1

I feel as I do when standing on a tower with a zip line in front of me.  My head tells me that I will be safe while my senses shout, ‘You fool!’ It is the Lord who knows the journey’s path from the beginning. He can regulate the pace; He can cancel meetings; He can make apparent obligations impossible, and expose them as frauds. The other side of the challenge? If I allow Him to work in me this way then through faith He will break the bounds of my limited view and overflow from me into the lives others. So, I am encouraged to take the risk and entrust myself to His mercy, to His love.

Where is your God?

Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Psalm 115:2

This is a question that is being asked of the Church. The question raises key issues. Firstly: What is it about the way we reflect Jesus that keeps this culture from seeing Him in us? Secondly: What is it about the world that it is so blind people cannot see Jesus in us? I believe that the next verses point to the answer for both questions.

Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him. Psalm 115:3

Our God is in heaven, so He cannot be seen by a culture that despises faith, declaring: Seeing is believing.

‘He does whatever pleases Him’, as against whatever pleases us. We struggle with this because our culture thinks of God as someone with a job description – to help us enjoy life. We make ourselves the centre and ask, Why believe in a God who does not do as I please?

But their idols are silver and gold made by the hands of men. They have … eyes, but they cannot see. Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them. Psalm 115:4-8

We protect our selfish view by creating our own gods to make us happy and so blanking Him or blinding ourselves in pretence that He is the god we want him to be.

We have a culture that blinds itself looking at a delusional Church. No wonder we are asked, ‘Where is your God?’

 

Awaiting God’s intervention

In a crisis I am tempted to force a solution. The Lord shows a different way – Isaiah 56

1‘Maintain justice  and do what is right,

I can’t achieve righteousness through abuse, only love.

for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.

The proximity of danger exposes hearts, asking – ‘Do I believe God’s justice and righteousness are the only way? Do I believe His salvation is at hand?’

Those willing to resist the temptation to force their own righteousness while seeking God’s salvation receive it. What a difference His righteousness will be from the one we had wanted. Instead of me winning and all else suffering, the Lord’s righteousness brings peace and love.

His salvation often waits till the last moment.

2 Blessed is the one who does this –  the person who holds it fast,

The Lord blesses those who hold to His righteousness. To do so I have to let go of hope for the outcome I had defined as righteousness and look to Jesus as my hope.

who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.’

This hope is seen in two aspects of submission:

Rather than driving towards the goal – destroying others in the rush, they will be content that there will be enough time and resources for the Lord’s will to be done His way.

Rather than forcing what they perceive as righteousness, they will walk in love expecting God’s way to become apparent as they go with Him.

Show not tell

We live in a culture that is so bombarded by messages that none are listened to. How then can the gospel break out? Isaiah’s prophecy on Jesus in Isaiah 52&53 gives clues. Isaiah 53 shows the frustration.

Isaiah 53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

The Lord himself is blanked out!

So will many nations be amazed at him
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

The final outcome  is clear: ‘The nations are amazed’. So the Lord breaks through. Who is the person the Lord uses?

Isaiah 52:14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him –
his appearance was so disfigured.

In the world of messages, the Lord’s servant doesn’t stand a chance. His appearance is all wrong. This is a message that brings us hope. God is not limited by our appearances.

Isaiah 52: 13 See, my servant will prosper (NIV Margin)
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

This person, who breaks through despite appearances, is identified as the Lord’s servant. He is living the faith in every area of life; walking with the Lord wherever He leads. Living this way, the Lord feels comfortable to exalt them.

For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We need to live the message so people can see in a culture where they will never hear. This takes time, but the lives affected are affected more solidly.

 

 

You will find the fuller study from which this is drawn at biblebase2adaringfaith

From consumer to disciple

One of Jesus’ statements is brought into new light through His apostolic ministry.

 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother … yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25)

Jesus is traveling from place to place. As He goes those who follow have a choice: They can -Either – Be consumers, experiencing what was on offer. OR – Be disciples, participating in His ministry. This choice became apparent when Jesus travelled beyond the scope of home as in –

Luke 9:59 He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ 62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

Deciding to be a disciple who followed Jesus wherever He went, meant leaving people behind who would feel betrayed – even hated! Jesus had no qualms in this and even now leaving all behind to be with Jesus gives freedom to follow Him with all of my heart, soul and mind. Further since He is love, His way, with hindsight be seen as the road of love.