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Discipleship (4)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In conversations with would-be followers, Jesus says to follow Him one must “count the cost” (Lk. 9:57-58) and “leave it behind.” (Lk. 9:59-60)  Again, following Jesus isn’t something that we just tack on to our lives; rather, it’s a solemn commitment to reorder it all around what’s most important.

On that day of inquiries, interestingly enough, another man also came to the Lord with his own request.  Luke records, “Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62  Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Lk. 9:61-62)  Again, here’s a request that doesn’t seem unreasonable - all I want to do is go and say goodbye.

It’s important though that we remember, Jesus “knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:25).  In other words, He knew the thoughts and intent of the gentleman’s heart.  Thus, it seems evident that devotion and commitment were things of which the would-be follower needed to be reminded.

Now someone who is well-versed in the Old Testament may be thinking of a similar situation. Elisha, when he was called, said something very similar.

  • So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”  (1 Kgs. 19:19-20)

He receives the call, yet he too wanted to go and say goodbye.  It is noteworthy, however, that his intent was to leave all and to follow.  Note verse 21: “And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.”  Elisha is resolute: he sacrifices the oxen, burns the yokes, gives the meat to the people and has a party.  Thus, his farming equipment is gone; such symbolizes the end of his days as a farmer - he is now a prophet. There is no going back.

That, it seems to me, is the point the Lord is wishing to make in Luke 9 - there is no going back.  The two biggest challenges the church faces in our culture are hurry and distraction.  Yet, to be a focused follower, we are to slow down or “be still” (Ps. 46:10) and remain focused. Nothing goes well while looking backwards.  I love how Paul says it: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:13-14)  Remember Jesus said, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:33)

As we bring these thoughts to a close, I cannot help but think there are those who would question the value in renouncing it ALL to become a slave. Why surrender everything?  (Family, Friends, Job, Schooling, Things, Aspirations, Dreams, Goals, Language, Example, Marriage, how to raise Children, perhaps Fame and/or Fortune, etc.) Why?

Well friend, it has to do with the benevolent nature of the Master.  If there were no such thing as a Resurrection or if God were an evil, selfish monster, then yes that is a pressing question.  But He is not!  Remember the manner in which Jesus (the full expression of God on earth) maneuvered through and dealt with people? Remember His portrayal of the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?  We have a Master that serves. (Jn. 13)  Forgoing it all to become a slave makes sense when one understands that God is loving and good.  That love and goodness then prompts us to surrender everything to follow Him.  And that is a choice that you and I will never forget or regret! 

You are loved!


Discipleship (3)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

In a conversation with a would-be follower, Jesus says to follow Him one must “count the cost.” (Lk. 9:57-58)  Besides counting the cost, we learn from yet another man seeking to follow that we must “leave it behind.”  Luke writes, “To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ 60 And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’”  (Lk. 9:59-60)  

To our Americanized ears that seems so harsh.  Especially since it’s a matter of wanting to bury and show respect to a parent.  Isn’t that a good thing? And isn’t the first line of defense when it comes to caring for the elderly the family?  Isn’t it somewhat strong for Jesus to say, “leave the dead to bury their own dead”?  So what do we do with the Lord's seemingly insensitive response?

The key resides in the fact that Jesus’ answer is metaphorical.  Obviously physically dead people can’t bury other physically dead people. Thus, He’s speaking of those who are spiritually dead.  So the Lord is essentially saying, “Let those who are without spiritual life bury him or her that is without physical life.” In other words, there are more important things for us to be doing here.

Still, even from a metaphorical vantage point, isn’t that somewhat insensitive?  Perhaps a piece to wrapping our minds around this resides in Jewish customs. There’s more to the story.

First, if he had actually passed already this conversation would not even have been taking place simply because, instead of conversing with a visiting Rabbi, this man would have been home tending to the burial and mourning details of his dad.  Remember, in the first century they did not have the advantage of modern embalming, so they were very proactive when it came to treating the body. They had the burial quickly.

Second, this leads us to assume that the man's intentions are suspect.  Some believe that his dad was alive (perhaps not even sick) and he just wanted to wait around for his death so that he could secure his inheritance.  Others, however, suggest, “maybe the dad was in the process of dying, and thus this man is really trying to put off obeying Jesus for an indefinite time.”

There’s still yet another view, however, that is also plausible - it has to do with the Jewish custom of having a “second burial.”  Jeff Benner, on his Bible site Quora, states that the question to be considered is, "What were the burial practices in first century Israel?"  Although the Bible doesn’t shed much light on the matter, he suggests that other sources do:

  • When a person died they were taken, usually on the same day of the death, to the family tomb, which was often a cave carved out of the limestone rock. The body was placed on a shelf carved in the rock. A year later the family would return and gather all the bones and place them with the bones of other family members on another shelf or the floor (this may be the origin of the frequent Biblical statement of being "gathered with his ancestors"). This is called the "second burial."  

Thus, he concludes, “Jesus would never have told someone not to bury their father (a violation of the commandment to honor your father and mother), the only conclusion is that the man was referring to this ‘second burial’ and [that’s] why Jesus told him to ‘let the dead bury their dead.’"

Regardless of how you and I choose to approach the text, the man’s message is, “I’ll follow you when it’s convenient.”  I understand St. Augustine once prayed, after being convicted and greatly troubled by a sermon on the kingdom of God, “Lord, make me good: but not yet.”  Maybe today for us a parallel would be, “Yes Jesus, I will follow you, but life is too hectic right now; too much is going on; I’m being pulled in too many directions - when life settles down then I’ll follow you.”  I’m reminded of Felix: “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”  (Acts 24:25)

A friend of mine once said, “Following Jesus isn’t something that we add on to our lives.  It’s not like taking a second job. It’s a solemn commitment to reorder and reconstruct everything around what’s most important, taking priority over every other thing. (Mt. 10:34-39; Mt. 6:24; Ja. 4:4)  Yes, according to our Lord, if you intend to follow Him: Count the Cost and Leave it Behind!  More to come.

You are loved!


Discipleship (2)

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a wonderful blessing, but it comes at a great cost.  Jesus said essentially that if we opt to follow Him, we’ll be hated by the world and attacked by the devil.  It’s a choice that none should take lightly. In Luke’s Gospel there’s a man who sought to follow Jesus, but needed to be reminded to “count the cost.”  Scripture records that “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’  58  And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Lk. 9:57-58)

At first reading you’d think the Lord would have been complementary.  You may expect Him to say something like, “You know I appreciate your willingness.  While there are many following me, not many would make such a statement, etc.” If someone were to come up after service to me or one of our shepherds and say, “I want to help with whatever it is that you need done at Northview,” our go to response is not, “Do you realize how much work there is to do?  There’s the scheduling, community, building, parking lot, bills, staff, assembly, Bible Classes, not to mention the overall direction of the church....” Rather, we’d be super excited and encouraged to have such a willing soul.

Not so with Jesus, friends.  The Lord detects that this gentleman hasn’t thought this thing through. Jesus reminds him that He didn’t even have a permanent dwelling place.  Thus, following Jesus was not/is not a pathway to comfort and ease. Just the opposite. Back then when someone “left all and followed Jesus,” they literally walked away from their life and traveled with Him from town to town.  Today, although we cannot literally follow Jesus in the flesh, we too are to live our lives as “pilgrims and strangers.”  (1 Pt. 2:11)

I read where Matthew Henry said, “The first lesson in Jesus’ school is self-denial.”  So true. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23)  Notice that it’s not the denial of a thing, a food or a substance.  It’s the denial of “self.” Jesus demands that His people table their own agenda and practice “self” denial.

Let’s face it: for most of us this does not come easily - at least it doesn’t for me.  I will say that sometimes foregoing my wants and desires for the sake of Christ or others is not that big of a challenge.  Other times, however, it can be SO very challenging. Why is it that we wrestle with this? Doubtlessly it’s because in our culture we are very self-oriented.  Case and point - selfies!

According to an article by Maria Mercedes Galuppo entitled, “Millennials expected to take over 25,000 selfies in their lifetime,” “Selfies have by now become an epidemic.”  

  • It seems like everywhere we turn there's someone with a camera trying to catch the perfect angle.  Many studies have been done on what seems to be a narcissistic era. A study by Now Sourcing and Frames Direct revealed that the average millennial will spend an hour a week on selfie duty, which can be anything from taking the photo to re-taking and editing it.  Considering the average lifespan is 27,375 days, an average millennial is expected to take 25,700 selfies during their lifetime. That's close to one selfie daily.

According to Galuppo, while “55 percent of social media selfies come from millennials,” Gen X has 24 percent and the baby boomers 9 percent.  She references a non-profit organization called Rawhide that provides some interesting selfie stats: “74 percent of Snapchat photos are selfies. 1,000 selfies are posted on Instagram every second.  In 2015, more people died from taking selfies than from shark attacks.” More people died from taking selfies than from shark attacks! WHAT!? Yup, Houston, we have a problem!

Jesus says if someone wants to follow Him, they really, really, really need to think about it.  Paul says that he was “crucified with Christ.” (Gal. 2:20)  Later he says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (5:24)  In Romans he says we are to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice.”  (12:1)  Perhaps no text is as clear as Paul’s words to the Colossians where he speaks of putting “to death” our former lives for the sake of Christ. (Col. 3:5-17)

We don’t know the rest of the story.  Did this gentleman leave all and follow through with what he said, or did he turn and walk away like the young ruler in Matthew 19?  More importantly, are you willing to follow Jesus regardless of the cost?  May God help us to reorient our lives for the sake of what’s most important.  More to come.

You are loved!


Discipleship (1)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Our Lord in Luke chapter 9 has much to say about discipleship and commitment.  In verses 57 through 62 He speaks to the “cost of being one of His followers.”  The text is sobering; it’s challenging and quite telling as to how we tend to want to come to God on our own terms.  Also, it’s not without significance that just prior to the Lord’s comments on discipleship, Luke says that “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  He shows that Jesus too made the choice to be determined, resolute, committed and single-minded regarding the things of God.

At the close of Luke 9 we get to eavesdrop on three conversations of potential followers.  Jesus has been teaching and showing compassion through miraculous signs.  He has done various healings: a man with an unclean spirit, Peter’s mother-in-law, a leper, a paralytic and a man with a withered hand.  Not only that, Jesus raised a widow’s son, taught the masses, preached in the synagogues, called the disciples and multiplied food.

You’d think it’d be a perfect time for an encouraging “Teaching Moment.” It would seemingly be a great time to speak to the masses about the manifold blessings of being a disciple: forgiveness, inner peace, freedom from the Law, abundant life, answered prayers, hope, heaven and of course the resurrection.  There are countless, positive reasons as to why someone should follow Jesus. Yet, instead of hitting things from that perspective, He uttered some of the strongest words in Scripture about discipleship and commitment. These are important words and words of which you and I need to be reminded.

Consider Luke’s words as he recounts three conversations between Jesus and potential followers:

  • As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him,“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Lk. 9:57-62

As we look at these in the weeks to come, essentially what we are witnessing is people coming to Jesus and saying, “I will follow you, but let me do it my way.”  That, however, is not how it works. May we never lose sight of the fact that He is God and we are merely His Creation.  And the fact that we’re told to “follow Him” suggests that He determines the direction, sets the pace and makes the rules.  We are said to be “bond servants” of Christ (Ro. 1:1).  What slave makes the rules for his master?  What Master negotiates his expectations with his servants?  Paul said we’re soldiers of Christ: “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him”  (2 Tim. 2:4).  Anyone who has been in the military will tell you, it’s pretty clear who IS and IS NOT in charge.  We are called to follow Jesus, but on His terms.

You are loved!


Blindsided Blessings

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Isn’t it wonderful, all of the beautiful colors with which the Lord has covered the palette of our lives?  Not only do we have the blessing of being alive, but we’re free. We have the beauty of nature, a plethora of modern conveniences, good friends, a church family and a Lord that loves us.  What is remarkable, however, is how among these most brilliant colors sometimes there are shades we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen. Don’t ever forget that God can turn those blindsiding challenges into wonderful blessings.

I'm reminded of a preacher in South Carolina I knew who had lost his eyesight when he was young.  He had memories of playing as a child, riding a bike and being able to see. Then, due to some fluke medical condition, his sight vanished to never return.  As you’d expect, such a loss was a huge defining moment. It was not, however, as you may think. Amazingly, this brother viewed the loss of his sight among the greatest blessings in his life, for the consequence of such was his decision to turn his heart to God.  Last I heard, he was married, had a couple children and was preaching.

Have you ever had a “blindsided blessing” in your life, perhaps a loss of a loved one, a diagnosis, a financial disaster or some kind of disappointment that ended up, much to your surprise, yielding spiritual growth and an appreciation for the good in life?  I know of a hard working family that went through bankruptcy years ago. Although it was devastating at the time, afterward the dad realized there was more to life than work and the accumulation of things. They finally were able to spend more time together as a family.  Isn’t it interesting how through disappointment good can surface?

At this writing, Tuesday, Nicholas turned 16.  Not only is it hard to believe it’s been sixteen years, I’m amazed at how his life has deepened ours and enriched others.  Mary and I brought cupcakes and balloons to the class. During his party, looking at the other special-needs children, I couldn’t help but be touched by how each of them, in their own uniquely special way, filled the room with joy.

I would challenge you to reflect upon some of those situations in your life.  What tragedy, loss or pain have you had to endure? Did you see God at work in the midst of it?  Can you, after some space and healing, see any good that came from it?

Personally, as I think about each of these situations, there are two things that come to mind.  First, when we are around and engaged in the lives of people, whether blind or financially destitute or perhaps with some disability, etc., it gives us a chance to show love and to be human.  It gets our minds off of ourselves! Second, there’s a powerful lesson as to how God can take difficult, seemingly hopeless situations, and turn them for good. Remember Joseph’s words to his brothers who had abandoned him, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20)   

Friend, whatever the colors on the palette of your life, use them to the glory of your Creator and thank Him for those blindsided blessings!

You are loved!


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