humility and discipleship

crown of thorns

One quality that really impresses God (and it’s not a very long list) is humility.  Humility is one of those things that just when you think that you’ve got it, you don’t.  And it’s one of those qualities of Jesus that is most evidenced in the lives of those who are genuinely seeking to imitate Him.

Jesus is fully God.  He steps into the world as Immanuel “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  In Colossians the Apostle Paul is writing to address issues that have arisen in the church in which some are questioning the deity of Christ.  He affirms, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things” (Colossians 1:19-20a).

And yet he “emptied Himself” and became “obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8).  And for this reason we are called to have the very same attitude and mindset as that of Christ Jesus (v5).

Jesus always goes about being “God with us” from a position of humility.  It’s never a power play with Jesus.  The only One who actually has the right to demand everything from a position of power because of who He is, comes to serve and comes to show us what true love and humility look like.

Too often we’re not enough like Jesus.  We manipulate.  We force.  We coerce.  That’s not Jesus….

Jesus’ call upon our lives is if we want to be His disciples we must first deny ourselves.  And I believe humility plays a crucial role.

Jesus never forces Himself on anyone.  “Do you want to be my disciple?  Take up your cross and follow me,” He says.  “Do you want to come and learn and share and be a part of the bigger picture and the things that I am about in the Kingdom?  Good.  Follow me.”  Discipleship is a choice.  Following Jesus is a choice.  And humility is a choice.

When you are full of yourself, God cannot fill you.  Only when we empty ourselves can our God fill us.  Only when we empty ourselves of all pride and all arrogance and all selfishness… only when we “humble ourselves before the Lord” can He then lift us up (James 4:10).

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit… (Matthew 5:3).”

Maybe that’s a good place for us to start as well.

Glory to God!

Jason

you’re blessed when…

waiting-on-god-church-worship-background

I say it often, and truly believe, if we would live the Sermon on the Mount our world would be turned upside down.  That you and I would be altogether incapable of external religiosity because of the inward attention the spiritual kingdom is given in these words of our Savior.  When our “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees” in heart-filled adoration rather than pious observation it is then and only then that the words of His message come to life.

How do you understand the Beatitudes (the Blessings) with which Jesus begins the Sermon (Matthew 5:3-12)?  How would you write them in your own words in such a way as to impact you right where you are in life and in such a way that is current and relevant to the world in which you find yourself a part?

I love the way Eugene Peterson does this very thing, paraphrasing in The Message:

  • You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and His rule.
  • You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
  • You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
  • You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
  • You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being “care-full,” you find yourselves cared for.
  • You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
  • You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
  • You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
  • Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

When we internalize the message of Christ and realize that He is speaking to us (and not just “them”), it is then that things begin to change for us.  It is then that He changes us.

Glory to God!

Jason

weeds and wheat

cow, farming

Jesus tells the story of a man who plants a field of wheat. But while everyone is sleeping an enemy comes along and plants weeds all throughout the wheat and then slips away in the night. As the first green shoots begin to appear the two look the same. But as the grain begins to form the workers soon realize the field is also inundated with weeds.

The farmer immediately recognizes what has occurred and that an enemy has planted the weeds right along side of his wheat. The farmhands are quick to ask if they should pull the weeds out from among the wheat but the owner knows what damage it would cause. “Let them both grow until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field….”

He explains the One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, and those who belong to Him belong to the Kingdom. And the one who sowed the bad seed is the evil one. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).

But here’s my question: Where do we fit in to all of this? If this is a portrait of the Kingdom – What’s our role?

To be wheat!

Right?

Do we uproot? Do we tear down? No! How much damage would that cause? How much damage has it already caused? No, our calling is to be wheat, in a field that is full of both weeds and wheat. To be wheat, and to show the field what wheat looks like.

And the amazing thing about the message of Christ is that the Gospel provides the way that a weed can become wheat. A complete metamorphosis. A change of state. A change of being.

In reality (if I’m not taking this parable too far) when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel should confront us of our own weediness (it’s not a real word but I like it!). The Gospel by design compels us to reckon our own weedy nature. Without the Good News of Jesus it is impossible to become or to be wheat.

The Gospel is designed in such a way that the message itself should and must compel us, and convict us, and radically alter our worldview so much so that we seek to live like the wheat we are called to be, in a world that so desperately needs to see what wheat looks like. The message of Jesus allows for the opportunity for weeds to become wheat!

Glory to God!

Jason

jamming gears and Jesus

old large gears

“Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’  ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.  When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer.  Then Pilate asked Him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’  But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor” (Matthew 27:11-14).

Pilate is amazed.  He’s dumbfounded.  His gears are seriously jamming.  Jesus won’t defend Himself against His accusers.  He answers Pilate when he asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  But he won’t answer those who oppose Him.  And Pilate doesn’t get it.  He can’t fathom why in the world Jesus doesn’t answer them.  But that’s precisely why.  Because His Kingdom is not of this world.  And so He refuses to answer.

Jesus doesn’t answer because He is in complete control.  Of Himself.  Of the situation.  It may seem as if things are spiraling out of control, but they are far from it.  God is sovereign.  Jesus doesn’t answer because “as a sheep before his shearers is silent he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  Jesus is fulfilling the plan of God, the purposes of God, in every way.  And He knows it.  Though His actions He’s fulfilling prophesy.  Intentionally.  Jesus doesn’t answer because His critics wouldn’t listen even if He did.  Would it change their minds?  Their hearts?  No.  And so He doesn’t answer.

One more crucial reason that I believe Jesus doesn’t answer is because He knows who He is as He stands before the Father.  He is complete.  He is whole.  He is without blemish.  Without defect.  Without fault.  And ultimately, it matters not what the critics think of Him; of who they believe Him to be.  What matters is that He fulfills the will of the Father in His life.  Beyond that, does anything else really matter?

Who we are in the Father’s eyes matters more than everything else.  When it is all said and done, it’s really all that matters.

Glory to God!

Jason

darkness scatters

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  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.  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness He called ‘night.’  And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5).

“God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.”

From the beginning of time.  From Creation.  From the word “go” (literally).  Light is separated from darkness.  They are opposed to one another.  Where one is present the other is not.

The Apostle John proclaims, “God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b).  Christ boldly declares, “I AM the Light of the World” (John 8:12).  And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to be spiritual light in a spiritually dark world: “You are the light of the world!” (Matthew 5:14).

We are called to be light.  Light in a world of darkness.  Why is it then that we so often toy with darkness?  Why is it that we too often concede and rationalize and justify any relationship with spiritual darkness?  With that which is spiritually opposed to the God we serve?

The Apostle Paul writing of the spiritual tempo of our lives asks, “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14b).  Light and darkness are enemies.  The presence of one defies the presence of the other.  How is that we can so easily walk out of spiritual light and into darkness?  Is our faith so shallow?

In Ephesians 2:8 he asserts, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”  He doesn’t even say, “We were once in darkness, but rather we were darkness.”  Outside of God.  Outside of His light.  But in Christ Jesus, our reality has radically changed.

Colossians 1:13 declares, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.”

John affirms our calling in Christ and challenges that if we “claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk (live) in darkness we lie and do not live by (in) the truth” (1 John 1:6).

The call is just that.  To accept and live into the calling that we have in this life in Christ Jesus to be light in a spiritually dark world.  A city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14).  A lamp on a stand that gives light to all (Matthew 5:15).

Where there is light, darkness scatters.  In our lives and in the lives of those we influence to the glory of the God we serve.

Glory to God!

Jason

transformative thinking

transformed

“You’ve heard it said…. But I say….” we hear our Lord proclaim over and over in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reinterprets. He reforms. He reprioritizes. “I know that you’ve heard it this way….” “I know that human nature says to respond like this….” “I know that you bring your own presuppositions to the table….” “I know this is the way that you once thought of things… but now, things are different.”

Jesus steps into our world and transforms our thinking, our ideologies, our worldviews, our way of life.

Here’s a tough one He tackles: “Love your enemies.” “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Love your enemies!? I have a hard enough time getting along with my friends!

Pray for (bless) those who persecute you!? Are you serious?

And it’s an active love for our enemies. And it’s a very tall order! More than just a passive bearing of persecution or hatred. Loving them. Blessing them. Doing good to them. For them. Regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

In this and in countless other ways Jesus calls for a radical paradigm shift. A radical change of mind. A change of perspective. A change of heart.

We see Jesus exemplify His own teaching as He prays for God to forgive those who are responsible for His death (Luke 23:34). But what about we who are ultimately those who are responsible because of our sin?

The Apostle Paul connects the dots for us: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11).

You see while we were still enemies of God, Christ died on our behalf.

“Love your enemies.” It’s one of those areas of the Gospel and one of those areas of our life and faith that we would just as soon ignore. It’s about a radical change of mind. From a mindset that is worldly to one that is of the Kingdom. It’s about seeing the potential for the magnificent impact of the Gospel of Jesus in the most unlikeliest of places. Just like God saw it in you, and in me.

Glory to God!

Jason

gnats, camels, and following Jesus

camel

“These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” – Matthew 15:8-9 (Jesus quoting from Isaiah 29:13)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” – Matthew 23:23-24 (Jesus telling the Pharisees what’s up!)

There is a point where religion gives way to faith. In order for this to occur there must come a point in time where God becomes real. To us. Where His kingdom begins to break in all around us. It is a pivotal moment. A crucial moment.

Maybe it comes about in a moment of victory. Maybe it’s in a moment of defeat.   Maybe it comes about through the words of God in Scripture. Maybe through the words of a friend. Certainly the Spirit is involved, softening our hearts. Whatever it is that brings it about, we must come to a point in our lives and in our faith when a decision is made. God is either God, or He is not. Jesus is either Lord, or He is not. The life-saving work of Christ is either everything to us, or it is nothing to us. Relationship with God is either a get out of jail free card at the end of this physical life, or it is the transformative covenant that it is intended to be here and now.

ugly camelSomehow, too often, discipleship is divorced from faith. As if that’s possible. As if that’s biblical. As if that’s acceptable! The call is to follow Jesus (faith). Not simply a system of belief (religion). And too often we find ourselves straining out the gnat but swallowing the camel.

What is discipleship? Taking up our cross daily and following Jesus (Luke 9:23).

Where does religion end and faith begin? Only, only, when we follow Him.

If we understand anything from the cross, anything from the resurrection, anything from the design of the Gospel, it is that half-hearted Christianity is a hollow shell of existence, and nothing compared to the overwhelming greatness that comes from living a life defined by Jesus.

Only when we willingly, intentionally give our whole selves over to Him will we begin to live into the fullness of the Kingdom. And only when we are defined by Christ, will we begin see life with the clarity that only He provides.

Until then we swallow the camel one loathsome chunk at a time….

Glory to God!

Jason

weeds and wheat

cow, farming

Jesus tells the story of a man who plants a field of wheat. But while everyone is sleeping an enemy comes along and plants weeds all throughout the wheat and then slips away in the night. As the first green shoots begin to appear the two look the same. But as the grain begins to form the workers soon realize the field is also inundated with weeds.

The farmer immediately recognizes what has occurred and that an enemy has planted the weeds right along side of his wheat. The farmhands are quick to ask if they should pull the weeds out from among the wheat but the owner knows what damage it would cause. “Let them both grow until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field….”

He explains the One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, and those who belong to Him belong to the Kingdom. And the one who sowed the bad seed is the evil one. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).

But here’s my question: Where do we fit in to all of this? If this is a portrait of the Kingdom – What’s our role?

To be wheat!

Right?

Do we uproot? Do we tear down? No! How much damage would that cause? How much damage has it already caused? No, our calling is to be wheat, in a field that is full of both weeds and wheat. To be wheat, and to show the field what wheat looks like.

And the amazing thing about the message of Christ is that the Gospel provides the way that a weed can become wheat. A complete metamorphosis. A change of state. A change of being.

In reality (if I’m not taking this parable too far) when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel should confront us of our own weediness (it’s not a real word but I like it!). The Gospel by design compels us to reckon our own weedy nature. Without the Good News of Jesus it is impossible to become or to be wheat.

The Gospel is designed in such a way that the message itself should and must compel us, and convict us, and radically alter our worldview so much so that we seek to live like the wheat we are called to be, in a world that so desperately needs to see what wheat looks like. The message of Jesus allows for the opportunity for weeds to become wheat!

Glory to God!

Jason

straining at the oars

oregon coast

At times we are tempted to think that we do this all on our own. I was once talking with a friend who was struggling. He was going through a difficult time in his life and there was no easy solution. It was going to take time and it was going to take God.

In a moment of frustration he said to me, “I feel like I’m a just a speck in the ocean that’s being tossed all around and nobody knows but me.”

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now. I had a college professor who would say, “Speak to those who are weary and hurting. Speak to them often. We are so very fragile.” And so if that’s you today, I want to share with you an encouraging thought from God’s Word.

In Mark’s Gospel we’re presented a unique perspective of the account of Jesus walking on the water. Generally the miracle itself is our focus. The event comes right after the feeding of the thousands on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had actually travelled across the sea to spend some needed time away from the masses, but are immediately inundated as they arrive. After the crowds are filled and leave, Jesus sends the disciples on their way, now across to the other side, as He goes on a mountainside to pray and spend intentional time with God (we should learn from Jesus).

“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night (3-6am) He went out to them, walking on the lake” (Mark 6:47-48a).

If you go on reading you see where Jesus steps into their boat and immediately, powerfully, divinely calms the wind and the waves and the storm. Looking to Matthew’s account we see where Peter has the faith to step out of the boat and actually walks on the water toward Jesus. But when he takes his eyes off of Christ and becomes fearful of the chaos around him, he quickly sinks (something we should take to heart).

Here’s what I’ve been getting at…. Mark says that the disciples were rowing in the boat in the “middle of the lake.” John affirms they were “three and a half miles out to sea” (John 6:19). Jesus, as He is on a mountainside praying, sees the disciples “straining at the oars.” They’re three and a half miles out to sea! At 3am! Half way across the Sea of Galilee at 3am and yet Jesus divinely sees those He is closest to struggling. He sees those that He loves “straining at the oars.” He sees them pounded by the wind and the waves, tossed back and forth in a sea of uncertainly, and it’s immediately upon seeing His disciples struggle that He is filled with compassion and begins to walk toward them across the water.

The love of Christ is revealed in our Savior’s actions as He comes to us in our time of need.

This is what I want you to hear: You are not alone. You have a church family that loves you dearly. And you have a Savior who is filled with compassion as He sees you “straining at the oars.”

Glory to God!

Jason