Staff Thought of the Week: “Relentlessly Loyal”

stotw_edited-1In Matthew 15 the Pharisees accuse the disciples of breaking the “tradition of the elders.” This was a big deal in the culture at that time, and the disciples probably felt a considerable amount of pressure to fit in with the cultural norms. It would have been easy for our Lord to agree with the Pharisees and go along with how difficult and unruly the disciples were, but he wouldn’t.

Instead he opposed the Pharisees and was relentlessly loyal to his disciples. They weren’t perfect, there’s no question about that, but Jesus stood against their attack and protected them. They were his sheep, and he loved them in spite of their flaws. He was zealous to guard them from their accusations, which could have very easily discouraged and confused them. Jesus could have pointed out how the disciples were hard-hearted (which they often were), or impetuous (they were), or self-centered (they very much were) or thick-skulled (which, again, they were), agreeing with the Pharisees and easing the tension. But he didn’t. He stuck to his less-than-perfect guys.

Be loyal to your students. They will be wrong– a lot. They will do foolish things. They will not progress exactly how you think they should. But they already have an accuser– his name is Satan– and you need to be their advocate, and consistently bring them to the Advocate. Show them loyalty, show them love, show them grace, show them gospel.

It’s been said so much it’s somewhat cliche, but there’s a reason people keep saying it: “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Let them know you’re with them for the long haul, through thick and thin, rain or shine, ups and downs. Be relentlessly loyal.

There is a time and place for tough love. You will have to do that too. But by and large, Jesus’s commitment to his disciples was one of grace and patience and teaching– working with them through their sins and struggles and failures.

Be relentlessly loyal to our drifting, wandering, learning, struggling, young friends.

 

True Discipleship: Fishers of Men

true discpleship

Part OneFollow me.  A true disciple is following Christ

Part Two: And I will make you A disciple is being changed by Christ

Matthew 4:18-20

[18] While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. [19] And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [20] Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Fishers of men.  A disciple taking up the mission of Christ.

With these words Jesus clarified the mission. Becoming a disciple means becoming interested in the eternal well-being of people. He says, “I’m going to change you. If you follow me, I’m going to make you something. Now you catch fish, soon you’ll catch people.” Let’s make it more modern. “Now you strive for As on your report card, soon you’ll strive for people. Now you strive for a successful career, soon you’ll strive for people. Now you’re building a platform, soon you’ll be building people. Now you strive for popularity, soon you’ll strive for people. Right now athletics are all-consuming, but there will be a day that the well-being of others consumes you.”

The underlying assumption is that the premiere sign of maturity is a genuine concern for other people. Jesus’s goal is to make them more interested in people than their careers. Jesus wants them to be more concerned about relationships than about their education, their status, their achievements, their awards, their scholarships, their accolades.

He didn’t say, “follow me and I will make you successful businessmen.” He didn’t say, “follow me and I will land you a good, well-paying job.” He didn’t say, “follow me and I will help you achieve your goals and dreams.” He says, “If you follow me, I’m going to reshape the way you see the world. I’m going to change your whole outlook on life. I’m going to show you that the greatest purpose you can give your life to is people.” Look at it this way: Jesus spent the last three years of his life with his people, teaching and training them to follow Christ. Your job is to do the same thing: spend your life with people teaching and training them to follow Christ. A true disciple is a disciple-maker.

If this is true, then we must understand that being relational is not an option, it’s a calling. The greatest thing we can give our lives to is relationships. The Bible speaks about two things lasting forever: God’s Word and people. Do you want to have a meaningful life? Do you want to labor for things that vanish like steam or for eternal treasures that never fade? Jesus’s call was to invest in the eternal—God’s Word and people. True disciples learn to do exactly that. They become “fishers of men.” That means, they orient their entire lives around this calling. They see that in order to be faithful they must give themselves to God’s Word and people.

So a true disciple is following Christ—believing, changing, submitting. He is being changed by Christ—learning and growing in grace. And he is taking up the mission of Christ—as a disciple-maker.

True Discipleship: And I Will Make You

true discpleship

Last timeFollow me.  A true disciple is following Christ

Today: And I will make you A disciple is being changed by Christ

Matthew 4:18-22

[18] While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. [19] And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [20] Immediately they left their nets and followed him. [21] And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. [22] Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

When Jesus said “I will make you” the offer was out on the table. Jesus was being straightforward. His intention was to make them into something they were not. Jesus wanted to fundamentally change their priorities, their desires, their goals, their dreams, their purposes—and he was clear about it. It was like he said, “I know you’ve spent your life catching fish. Not anymore. I’m going to change you.” To our modern ears, that sounds offensive. What right does he have? We shouldn’t try to change people, that’s rude. Let them be, man. Tolerate.

Jesus didn’t fit it then and he probably wouldn’t fit in now. His goal—and he was absolutely unashamed of it—was to change people. To make them into something they weren’t. From the beginning, this was laid out on the table. A disciple, then, is something who is being changed by Christ.

If you are to start following Christ—by believing, by changing, and by submitting—you must understand what you’re agreeing to. Almost everything you sign up for these days has a long tedious document with terms and conditions. Does anyone actually read those? Well, Jesus has terms and conditions that we must agree to if we are to follow him. But they’re not long, hard to read, annoying and complicated. They’re actually simple. He says” if you follow me, understand this: I am going to change you. That means you must be eager to learn and eager to change.”

True disciples are learners. People who think they have nothing else to learn aren’t good disciples. The best disciples are the best learners. They are hungry for knowledge, hungry for information, hungry for insight, hungry for wisdom, hungry to acquire skill, hungry to hone their talents, hungry to practice what they’ve been taught. Part of what it means to follow Jesus is admitting you not only have the deep-seated problem of sin, but the deep need of being taught.

True disciples want to change. This goes right along with being a learner, but it takes it to the next level. Being a true disciple means not only learning but practicing what you’re learning. True disciples aren’t about acquiring information for information’s sake. They want to change. They hate their sin and they want to grow. That’s why Jesus’s call must have been so appealing. I love it—Jesus promises to change them. “I will make you.” Perk up whenever Jesus makes an “I will” statement. He said to his disciples that he would make them fishers of men. He would set out to change them and he wouldn’t fail. This is great hope for us, because the promise we receive is that Jesus will change us to make us useful for his service as we follow him.

So a true disciple is following Jesus and eager to learn and change. And he is also someone being changed by Christ. 

True Discipleship: Follow Me

true discpleship

Follow me. A true disciple is following Christ

Matthew 4:18-22

[18] While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. [19] And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [20] Immediately they left their nets and followed him. [21] And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. [22] Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

The first requirement to be a disciple—a Christian—is to follow Jesus.

To follow involves three elements: belief, life-change, and submission.

Following Jesus requires belief in who he was and what he came to do. Simon Peter and Andrew weren’t asked to follow someone they didn’t know. They had spent time with Jesus previously (John 1:35-42), and even believed he was the Messiah. When Jesus approached them in Matthew 4, they had already known Jesus for some time, scholars say a year. So we understand that the first requirement of a disciple of Jesus Christ is to believe.

Of course, the Simon Peter and Andrew didn’t know a lot about Jesus. But they believed he was the Messiah, even though they didn’t entirely understand. And this is the beauty of following Jesus—you don’t have to be a genius to figure it out. Your understanding of Jesus doesn’t have to complete. In fact, usually it’s the simple ones who get it best. “God chooses the foolish to shame the wise.” You can’t follow someone you don’t believe.

What you do have to know is that you have a sin problem that has earned you punishment and Jesus alone can save you. There are more details—a glorious and beautiful treasure trove of details—but the essentials of following Jesus today remain quite simple. God made you. You rebelled. Faith in Christ saves those who repent and believe. Those who believe those things are saved.

Following Jesus also implies life change. When Jesus says “follow me” the underlying directive is stop following that. If he says follow me, he means give up on your ways. If he says live for me, he means stop living for yourself. Simon and Andrew got it—they left their nets and followed him. Following Christ meant giving up their careers in fishing. James and John were mending their nets, trying to fix them so they could catch more fish. And suddenly when Jesus called them, they left the nets in the boat. They weren’t important anymore—following Jesus meant leaving behind old ways.

That’s what following Jesus is—not literally following him around, like the original disciples did. For us, following him has a much broader meaning: we are to follow his way of life, his teachings, his priorities, his goals.

Following Jesus also indicates submission. Jesus says follow me, and that means we give up the rights to run our lives. This is called repentance. We have handed over the title deed of our lives. We gladly submit to Jesus as our lord, master, leader, and guide.

Some try to make Jesus’s call easier than it actually was. They like to accept Jesus as Savior but not as Lord or Master. And so they think they’ll can be saved without submitting to Christ. This isn’t so—the truth is that if Jesus ain’t your Master he ain’t your Savior. If you haven’t submitted you haven’t been saved. It’s the blunt truth that Scripture is careful to repeat over and over again.

So let me recap quickly: When Jesus says “follow me” this is what he means: believe me, make a change in direction, and submit completely.

Next post will look at Jesus’s intention: “and I will make you…”

Sullivan in Crisis

A friend just sent me a magazine article written by Andrew Sullivan titled: “Christianity in Crisis: Forget the Church. Follow Jesus.” And here are four reasons the article is awful.

1. Dismissal of God’s Authoritative Word. The first clue that he’s way off base is when he starts citing Jefferson’s reduction of Scripture as heroic. Apparently, the writer’s modern sensibilities are more authoritative than the revealed Word of God.

2. Liberalism. It’s just liberalism– he’s trying to find a kernel of truth by peeling away the husks of “myth” and “legend.”  And like most liberals, he’s glaringly inconsistent. In one section he outright denies the validity of the New Testament writings. In another he says he believes in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection.  Why he picks and chooses certain doctrines and dismisses others is beyond me. In reality, Andrew Sullivan is the author of Andrew Sullivan’s religion. It’s made in America. Assuredly, divine revelation didn’t bring him to his conclusions. And whatever they are, they don’t represent authentic Christianity, no matter how loudly he says they do. Christianity stripped of its fundamental doctrine is not Christian. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Christianity without doctrine? He’s a walking contradiction. In his final paragraph he writes of Christianity, “when politics and doctrine and pride recede, it will rise again.” I’m all for politics and pride receding, but doctrine? He just spewed four pages of “doctrine.” False, damnable doctrine, but doctrine nonetheless. He’s rigidly dogmatic about denouncing dogma. He’s indoctrinating his audience with an anti-doctrine agenda. That’s one of the (many) big problems with post-modern Christianity– its own premises undercut its propositions. Sullivan takes on the unenviable task of staying Christian without believing any doctrine. A nutty thing, I know.

4. An Attack Against Christ. Satan’s grandest schemes are against the church, and this article leads a frontal assault on the bride of Christ. It is like Satan to use a man who calls himself “Christian” to attack Christ’s body. The church (per Ephesians) is at the center of God’s plan, and as far as Scripture is concerned, the church is the manifest presence of Christ on earth. An attack against the church is an attack against Christ. These “I like Jesus, but not the church” movements undermine authentic Christianity. Beware of them– many of them have jettisoned essential doctrines and embraced some that are vaguely identified with Jesus. But they’re not Christian– and the reason they’re so insidious is because they retain the label.

Conclusion:

Christianity is not in crisis. Andrew Sullivan is in crisis. The Jesus he has manufactured is a product of his own imagination. When the real Jesus returns to judge the world, Sullivan won’t be able to hide behind his high-brow essays. Unless he repents– and I hope he does– he will face God unforgiven. As for now, don’t buy his pick-and-choose “Christianity.” It has about as much saving power as Buddha.

 

Take hope, sin is the root of your marriage problem

The gospel story makes it very clear that the main human problem is sin. We are sinners who sin against each other. We are sinners who respond sinfully to being sinned against. We are sinners who often respond to blessing sinfully. That’s why Jesus came—to save us from our bondage to sin.

If it’s true that sin is the core issue of failing marriages, then we have reason to hope. Why? Because Jesus came to rescue us from the destruction of sin. And he can rescue a marriage from the sin that’s destroying it.

If marriage problems were genetic, there would be trouble because Jesus didn’t come to change genes. If marriage problems are purely circumstantial, we’re in trouble because Jesus never promised to make our lives nice and neat. Since every marriage problem grows in the arid desert of indwelling sin, we are hopeful because God has given Living Water in Jesus Christ. He is a Rescuer. He rescues sinners from their sin. He is our Living Hope.

Jesus came to deal with sin

Let me say something about other religions real quick. Why do people get religious? They get religious because they’re looking for something. Maybe it’s inner peace. Maybe it’s purpose. Maybe it’s to placate their guilt. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity. People get religion because it satisfies some aching of the heart—or at least poses as something that will satisfy.

People say that Buddhism gives them inner peace. People say that the Baha’i Faith gives them purpose. Muslims take solace that their life of submission to Allah will result in a heavenly reward of black-eyed virgins. And so they find peace, purpose, and solace in their false, misguided religions. But let me tell you something—though they may have a measure of peace, a newfound purpose, or even a solace in death—they do not have anything to deal with their sins. They enter eternity without anything or anyone removing the stain of sin that plagues them. That’s what separates Christianity from everything else.

Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. The reason Jesus came into our world was to deal with the problem of sin. It wasn’t to be an instruction manual. It wasn’t to be your life coach. It wasn’t to be a glowing example. It wasn’t to be a martyr. It wasn’t to give you your best life now. It was to deal with the problem of human sin.

If you’re looking for a life-coach, or some principles to help you get through the days, or some great advice on how to live morally—go to the local bookstore in the self-help section. You’ll find all kinds of helpful things—and none of them will be able to deal with the problem of sin.

If you come to church because Jesus is a good example, Jesus gives you purpose, Jesus was a great moral teacher—you’ve missed the point. Jesus was all those things but that wasn’t the point. He came to die for sins. He came to bear the brunt of God’s wrath toward repentant sinners. That’s what Christianity is—we are justified before God by faith in Jesus Christ. That’s Christianity. That’s the gospel. It’s not rules, lists, rituals, laws—it’s not be good, be better, be a servant—be, be, be. The gospel is not be. It’s believe. Believe that Jesus is the son of God, the King of the Universe, and give your full allegiance to him. And what happens when you do that will blow your mind. Peter calls it “joy inexpressible and filled with glory”—he’s running out of adjectives! There is a solution to your guilt. There is a solution to your condemnation. And his name is Jesus.

 

Go to Jesus and count the cost

Go to Jesus and find him to be everything you’ve ever needed. And as you go to him, count the cost. For some of you, in the moment of conversion, counting the cost is a quick and easy thing. In that moment, when God supernaturally flicks on the eyes of your soul and you see God, fiercely holy, in all his white purity—it is immediately clear that no sin can be in his presence; hell seems to be opening its mouth at your feet, sin feels like shackles around your hands and ankles; you know immediately that your condemnation is totally just and right—you are a sinner, you have no excuse, and all out of the blackness all you see is the wounded, bloody hands of Jesus, reaching down to you in grace. There are no other options; Jesus alone can save you, and through him alone can you be forgiven. And in that moment, counting the cost is easy—you could easily suffer a hell on earth if it means eternity with Christ.

But for others, it doesn’t happen that way. Some stand at a distance and examine Christ. They put him under the microscope. They think hard about the claims of the gospel and take their time to make an informed decision. This is good. This way is the most common way people get saved. Some are awakened in an instant, as if a bomb of grace went off under their bed. Others are slowly nudged awake. This is counting the cost.

Peter says, “as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men.” Christians, this is our leader and example—Jesus is the living stone rejected by men. We follow him. And if our leader was rejected by men, so will we. It comes with the territory. Count the cost.

Peter will later tell his audience not to “be surprised when the fiery trials come upon you, as if something strange were happening to you.” Why should they not be surprised? Because trials come with the territory. Count the cost.

Romans 8:16-17  says that we are heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. But it doesn’t stop there—Paul gives a condition for his truth. He says that he are fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him, in order that we may also be glorified in him.” In other words, Paul seems to be saying that We are fellow heirs with Christ if we share in his sufferings. And if we suffer with him, then we will be glorified with him. In short, suffering is part and parcel to being an fellow heir will Christ. It comes with the territory. Count the cost.

When Jesus called Paul on the Damascus road he said to Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Acts 14:22 says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Jesus in John 15:20 “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

When Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians, he said it was so that  “no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Paul writing to Timothy said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Do you want to count the cost? I’ll help you. It costs you everything. Your whole life. Your plans, your dreams, your family, your friends, your comfort, and your security (earthly security, that is), your petty hidden sins, your selfish agendas. Quite possibly, your dream house, dream car, dream life. That’s what it costs you. In return, you get salvation from hell, and your sins that hold you condemned. You get promised eternal life in glory with Jesus Christ, peace with God and adoption into God’s family—God will be your Father, and he will love you relentlessly and grace you lavishly for eternity. And God will throw in some heavenly joy just to give you a foretaste of your true home. Need help deciding?

Let me, and every true follower of Christ, with resounding joy, say: “It’s worth it!”

 

 

Christ was foreknown before the foundations of the world

I often write out my thoughts before I teach on a passage. The greater context is 1 Peter 1:17-21, but here I’ve written my thoughts on verse 20, which says “He was foreknown before the foundations of the world.”

He refers to Christ, the unblemished Lamb of God. Even before he condescended into human history in the form of an infant, Christ had a plan to die a bloody death.

There are two books in the Bible that start with the words “In the beginning.” Genesis and John—and they are both speaking of the foundations of the world. Genesis starts, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And John starts, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

I want to take these two passages and look at them together. They are both talking about the same time period (the beginning), and they both have different perspectives. Obviously Moses is writing before the incarnation and John is writing after.

John says, “In the beginning was the Word.” In the Genesis account, after the first verse that gives the summary description of the creation event, Moses gets into more details as to how God created the universe. We read that the earth was “formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” The picture is ominous—formless, void, darkness—all words they bring negative feelings. And then, to change all that, God speaks. A command proceeds from the mouth of God. Words go flying through the void. And the power of those words causes a universe.

The first words were like this: “Let there be light.” And there was light. God’s creative act was one that involved speaking words—and his word caused the universe to exist.

Now back to John. John says, “In the beginning was the Word.” I take that to mean the word of command, the creative act of God. The “Let there be” is the Word of God. The Word that is bringing things into existence throughout Genesis 1 is the same Word spoken of in John 1. And as John says, it is both with God and it is God. Then, as John describes, that same creating Word, in verse 14, becomes flesh and dwells among us. In short, the Word that created the universe is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Hebrews 1:2 makes it perfectly clear, “he appointed [his Son] the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” and verse 3, “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus does that.

Peter is telling his audience that the plan of Christ was foreknown before the foundations of the world. Before mankind existed it was determined that Christ would be the Savior of mankind. Before Adam and Even were labeled sinner, it was ordained that Christ be sent to earth to die for sinners. Before there was ever such a thing as murder, Christ determined to be murdered.

When Christ scooped down into the dust and formed a lifeless man, he looked ahead to the day when he would clothe himself in flesh, walk among men, and be betrayed and denied by them. When God created a beautiful garden he knew that it would be a garden where he would sweat drops of blood in anticipation of his coming crucifixion. As Christ formed hills he knew he would ascend one with a cross on his scourged back. Christ created trees knowing that he would be nailed to one. As Christ created the elements of iron and steel, he knew that spikes would be driven through his weary hands. When the words came forth “Let there be light,” Christ knew that darkness would envelop him in death.

When the angry mob surrounded the tired, trembling Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, they did not know that they were arresting the Creator of the universe.

It’s no wonder that they fell back when Jesus said, “I am he.”