to be Christian, but not a disciple

I Have Decided Christian Wallpaper

“Once when Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’ ‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’ Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ Then He said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, they must deny themself and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:18-23)

This is one of my favorite passages. For so many reasons…. When Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds understand Him to be, to be honest, I don’t think He’s really concerned with their answers. Certainly He knows what their responses will be, the generalizations of the masses. The presuppositions of those who have heard of His ministry. And so the disciples respond with the understanding of others. “John the Baptist?” “Elijah?” “Maybe a prophet from long ago who’s come back to life?” Jesus wanted them to say it. He wanted them to mentally process it. He wanted them to verbalize it. But then He asks the question to which He truly wants an answer. “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” Of course it’s Peter who responds with the belief of those who are closest to Him: “You are the Christ of God.” “You are the Messiah.” “You are God, in humanity, who’s come to redeem the world!”

You see what Jesus truly wants an answer to is personal. “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” I think we’re tempted to think that this is a verbal acknowledgement. And although included, I think it’s much deeper than that. Who we believe Jesus to be is profoundly revealed in our fidelity to Him. In our commitment to the cause of our Savior. In our beliefs. In our faith. In our priorities: How do I spend my time, my energy, my money, my life? Am I faithful in every way? To my Lord? To my spouse? To my family? Am I kind to my children? Do I cultivate faith in them? Am I a trustworthy friend? When others look to me are they convinced that I believe Jesus to be the “Christ of God”?

It is for this reason that Jesus calls for His disciples then and now to deny ourselves. To die to ourselves and take up our crosses of sacrifice daily.

Then and only then will we be capable of fully following Him. Fully following.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to fully belong to Him and to be fully committed to Him. Half-hearted Christianity is not Christianity.

Is it possible to be Christian, but not a disciple?

Who do you say Jesus is?

Does your life confess what your lips acknowledge?

Glory to God!

Jason

“q” time

hourglassI wonder what is important to you?

Sometimes life gets in the way and what is urgent gets in the way of that which is important. The lines between what is urgent and what is important are often blurred.  A deadline that must be met.   A project that is past due.  A meeting that needs to be attended.  A person that requires your attention.  Are these urgent or important?  It very often might be that they are indeed both.

time bombOur priorities are easily revealed.  And it’s not as if the urgent mustn’t sometimes temporarily outweigh the important.  But the amount of time and attention we give to any particular person or practice tends to grant us insight into that which comprises our priorities.

We may say that our family is a priority to us, but if what our children see in us is that we are capable of granting all sorts of time and energy toward other people and other endeavors, and little time toward them, what does it communicate to them in regard to where they rate on our scale of priorities?  We may say (and even believe) that we love our spouse more than any other person on the face of the planet, but if we spend more time on the golf course or more energy at the office than we’d ever think about affording to them, what is communicated to them as to how intentional we are in validating the relationship that we share?  And what about God?  Where does He fit in?  We say that God is first in our lives?  Is He really?  How much focus is centered upon God during the course of your week?  Take church attendance out of the picture.  What attention does He receive?

tranquilSomehow we’ve found it extremely easy to con ourselves into believing that right theology equals right relationship.  The truth is, if our theology was right, we would find it all together impossible to think this way.

John Stott in his work, “The Living Church,” describes how on his calendar he would mark the letter “Q” on one specific day each month (Stott passed away in 2011).  The “Q” stood for “quiet.”  Once a month, on a day that he had designated and planned long beforehand, he would go to a quiet place.  Away from the office.  Away from the busyness of life.  Away from interruptions.  And he would spend 10 to 12 hours that day, by himself, “quiet,” with God.  One day a month with no agenda, other than “quiet” time with God.  Prayer.  Study.  Closeness.  Intimacy with God.  What does that say about Stott’s priorities?  What does it say about his desire to be with the Father?

What if you were to plan a “Q” day each month?  Or a “Q” hour each week?  Or “Q” time each day?

What would it say about your priorities?  How might it impact your walk with the Lord?

Glory to God!

Jason

ten words

blurred, man standing, subway

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  Ten words.  That changed everything.

In an instant, everything changed.  It was all in God’s divine plan.  All in His divine providence.  All founded in His divine initiative.

Decades later (and especially a century later), the incarnation would be at the center of debate.  There were many who questioned the validity of the Word becoming flesh.  It wasn’t entirely Christ’s deity that was under scrutiny.  It wasn’t solely His humanity that was doubted.  It was the mental gymnastics required to accept that He was both.  Divine and human.  Simultaneously.  Upon initial consideration, can we blame them?  We have the benefit of 2000 years of theology.  But the reality that Christ was 100% God and 100% human, you have to admit, is a doctrine that must be based solely upon faith.  Because it makes no earthly sense.

But He was.  Christ was with God in the beginning (John 1:1).  And then He became (John 1:14).  He became, He took on flesh, and He lived and walked and ministered among us.  The incarnation is intended to blow our minds.  And it should!  That God was willing, that Christ was willing, to “take on the nature of a servant” and be made “in human likeness” and to become “obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:1-11) should amaze us!  It is certainly designed to.

walkAnd the amazement of the incarnation must not end there.  Because the wonder of it all is that Christ is “incarnate” in us (if we can use that terminology).  God is revealed “in the flesh” when His people live out our calling as those who belong to Him.

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  Verse 27 comes at the conclusion of an entire section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church which centers upon the incarnation of God in Jesus.  He then transitions to the incarnation of Christ, in us!

That a holy God would, through His perfect Son, reside within an unholy and imperfect people should amaze us!  It is certainly designed to.  Our reality as those who have been sanctified by the Spirit purposes you and I to reveal His deity in our humanity.  In our divine and human nature(s).  Christ is us, the hope of glory.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  Ten words.  That changed everything.  Ten words.  That change us still.

Glory to God!

Jason

you are not alone

Angel Sculpture Christian Stock Image

“God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16b-18).

There’s a lot that has brought the Apostle John to this point in his first letter.  There are those who feel as if they have the market cornered on God and who readily belittle others who they consider as “less spiritual.” John writes to encourage those who are taking criticism and who are truly seeking to have high view of God and humble view of themselves.

The theme of “love” is a thread that runs throughout John’s literature.  John assures that the very nature of God is love.  The Apostle affirms that love is not only the foundation of our relationship with the Father, but is foundational in our relationship with others.  With both those whom we agree and those we do not.

Everything of course is encompassed within Jesus’ beautiful message: “God so loved…” (John 3:16).

But here in 1 John, the Apostle moves from “love” to “fear.”  “There is no fear in love.”  “Perfect love drives out fear.”  The connection to love (and context of John’s message) is enveloped in relationship.  Relationship with God.  And relationship with others.  And what I believe our Father through His servant John hopes to communicate with us in this is that for those who are in a right relationship with God fear is not a part of the equation.  The perfect love of God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus drives it away.  However, if we were to be honest, we each, very often, have our fears.  And even though John is speaking of eternity and how there is no fear (“condemnation” to use Paul’s word – cf. Romans 8:1) for those who are in Christ Jesus, I wonder what might be weighing on your heart and mind right now?

I wonder: What is it that you’re afraid of?  What is it that is causing you concern right now?  What is it that is weighing you down?  What is it that is keeping you up at night?  What is it that is dividing your attention?  What are your fears?

Because the message of Jesus can be summed up in these words: “You are not alone.”

Jon Walker in his book, Costly Grace, writes: “Fear whispers in our ear that we face danger alone, that God is unaware of our plight and that Jesus is unavailable in our time of need” (p217).

You are not alone.  You can trust God.  You can trust our Father.  You can trust Him.

You are not alone.

Glory to God!

Jason

un-sin me

snowHoliness.  Not the easiest concept for us to grasp.  Oh I think we have an idea of holiness when it comes to God.  But I wonder if we see it and believe it in ourselves?

So often we struggle with self.  We struggle with self-doubt.  And we struggle with self-righteousness.  The question should never be: How do I see myself?  The question should always be: How does God see me?  And, how do I see God?  This places us and God where we need to be.

Isaiah steps into the Temple and he’s not expecting much.  But when he opens his eyes to the wonder and power and holiness of God, it’s then that Isaiah the priest becomes Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 6).

God is holy.  He is pure.  He is righteous.  He is worthy.  We understand His holiness no more clearly than when we are confronted by His magnificence and our own inadequacy.

But in this we find the beginning of our dilemma.  Because no one knows us better than us.  No one knows our inability to measure up to God better than we do.  The Gospel calls us not only to salvation, but to see ourselves through the eyes of God.  As those who have been made holy through the holy sacrifice of Christ.  Holy not because of us, but because of Him.  Holy not because of us, but in spite of us.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22).

Holy in His sight?  Without blemish?  Free from accusation?  Yes!  How?  Through Jesus.  God sees us as holy because He sees us through the lens of Jesus.  And this is what we call “Gospel.”  This is what we call “Good News.”

We’re tempted to not believe it.  Maybe we understand it intellectually, but we struggle with allowing it to take hold of our hearts.  Because doing so compels us to relinquish control.  And to allow God to be God.

When King David prays to God, “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7b), literally in the Hebrew his prayer is: “Un-sin me….”  “Cleanse me.  God, take away my sin.  Make me whiter than snow.  Remove all my sin stain.  Remove my guilt.  Make me pure.  Righteous.  Holy.  Accomplish that which I cannot accomplish on my own.  Make me more like you.”  And the amazing thing is, through hearts that turn to Him, He does just that.

To see ourselves as God sees us grants significant insight into faith.  It empowers us to live more into (and out of) the lives that He has created for us to live in Christ Jesus.

Two questions remain: Will we allow Him to make us holy?  And, do we believe that He can?

Glory to God!

Jason

unity and oneness

Jesus Stained Glass Religious Stock Image

During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. would speak of moving “from the who to the what.”  Both after the murders of Freedom Riders: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi and then after the beating death of Princeton Seminary student James Reeb in Alabama, King declared “it’s not so much who killed them but what killed them.”  And “when we move from the who to the what, in a very real way we begin to see that we are all in this together.”

Of course the “what” was the underlying motive of hate and bigotry and disunity that permeated so much of the world-view of the day.  A world-view which in many ways has yet to be overcome.  In regard to unity among races and cultures as a whole we still have a very long way to go.

In the church we are called to unity in Christ.  To be one in Jesus.  We who are many and yet comprise one body through the Gospel are called to oneness.  The Apostle Paul implores, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).  Only God can bring this about.  We are different in many, many ways.  The call however is to unity, not uniformity.  To “move from the who to the what.”  That we would be united in spite of ourselves.  In spite of our differences.  Indeed we only truly know if we are united when we have differences.  In many ways we have a long way to go.  However we serve a God whose mercies are new every morning.  A God who has revealed Himself as faithful throughout the history of mankind.  And a God and who is at work in a wonderful way in the life of His people today.

We begin with the Gospel and we begin with grace.  For when we begin to see ourselves in our need for God and in our need for His mercy, the playing field begins to be made level, and all pride is taken away.  Only then will God begin to bring about unity.

Jesus on the night before the cross prays for Himself, His disciples, and then for us: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20b-23).

How is it that the world will believe and know the truth of God made manifest in Christ?

Only when they see unity and oneness in His people….

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

the 2014 top 5

open book

Each year I post the top 5 books (aside from Scripture) that made the most impact on me during the year.

The year’s “must reads.”

5 books that stand out from among all the wonderful books that I’ve read during the previous year.

Some are recently published.

Others are from years ago.

Each however, profoundly influential in my own spiritual journey.

And that I pray, will be a source of courage for you as well….

Randy Harris’ newest book Life Work: Confessions of a Everyday Disciple completes a trilogy of work (cf. Soul Work and God Work) focused upon discipleship and following Jesus. Anyone who knows Randy or has learned from his teaching and preaching is familiar with the humility, dedication, and conviction he brings to every step of life.

I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian, and I Liked Him Better is the most recent book from Rubel Shelly’s pen (keyboard). Rubel has influenced generations of believers, and to me, I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian is Professor Shelly’s Magnum Opus.

I’m working on an eBook focused on the practice of spiritual disciplines, and so much of my reading during 2014 has centered upon this end. No author has influenced my life in this respect more than Henri JM Nouwen. No one. Every word from Nouwen yearns for Jesus. One book from my friend that has been especially meaningful to me during this journey has been The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence.

From Gabe Lyons, the author of UnChristian, comes the book, The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World. If you’ve ever overly-concerned yourself with the future of faith (as if it’s not safe in the hands of God), Lyons assures, the best is yet to come.

ACU professor of psychology, Richard Beck, writes regularly of the collision of theology and psychology at his blog Experimental Theology. In his work he consistently pursues the call of Christ for we who believe, to love God and love others. In his most recent book, The Authenticity of Faith, Beck considers what holistic faith truly looks life.

Glory to God!

Jason

our commitment to the Kingdom

prayer

To what degree are we committed to the Kingdom of God? For many the answer resonates quickly. Commitment is readily affirmed. But I’m talking specifically about what is revealed in our actions. Do our actions demonstrate a commitment to the Kingdom? Or, do they demonstrate something wholly different than perhaps we even feel within?

Christianity is, by design, relational. Our relationship with God. Our relationship with others. With His church. With the world. As in any relationship, what is within must be expressed in order for it to be truly valid. Too often in many personal relationships the goodness that is within is scarcely expressed. At least, it isn’t conveyed well enough. What I mean is this… sometimes a husband and father may in his heart love his family. He truly believes he loves them. And in his heart of hearts, he does. But somehow that love stays inside. He may within himself feel that he loves his family. And the family may witness glimpses of that love. But primarily what they experience is a dad who is tired all the time, complains a lot, never seems satisfied, and for the most part wants little to do with the interworking of the home and gives a sense that he just wants to be left alone.

As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

The same can be said of faith. The evidence of our commitment to the Kingdom is revealed not by what is within, but rather by what is expressed through intentional action in our lives.

In Galatians 5:22 the Apostle Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Paul says to us, “This is what it looks like when the Spirit of God resides within you. Love is revealed. Joy is made evident. Peace sooths from within. Patience is a constant. Kindness is our natural response. Goodness is pursued. Faithfulness is what we are about. Gentleness is the norm. Self-control is a given.” And if we think things through, as God orchestrates the design of Scripture, it is the Spirit Himself, guiding Paul’s pen, saying to us, “This is what it looks like when I live within you.”

Second Century Apologist, Irenaeus, writes: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I cannot help but think our being “fully alive” is conditioned by our relationship with God through Christ, an acute awareness of God, and by our commitment to the Kingdom.

Glory to God!

Jason

moving from the “who” to the “what”

Christian Gathering Faith Stock Photos

During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. would speak of moving “from the who to the what.”

Both after the murders of Freedom Riders: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi and then after the beating death of Princeton Seminary student James Reeb in Alabama, King declared “it’s not so much who killed them but what killed them.” And “when we move from the who to the what, in a very real way we begin to see that we are all in this together.”

Of course the “what” was the underlying motive of hate and bigotry and disunity that permeated so much of the worldview of the day. A worldview which in many ways has yet to be overcome. In regard to unity among races and cultures as a whole we still have a very long way to go.

In the church we are called to unity in Christ. To be one in Jesus. We who are many and yet comprise one body through the Gospel are called to oneness. The Apostle Paul implores, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

Only God can bring this about. We are different in many, many ways. The call however is to unity, not uniformity. To “move from the who to the what.” That we would be united in spite of ourselves. In spite of our differences. We truly only come to know if we are indeed united when we encounter differences.

In many ways we indeed have a long way to go. However we serve a God whose mercies are new every morning. A God who has revealed Himself as faithful throughout the history of mankind. And a God and who is at work in a wonderful way in the life of His people today.

We begin with the Gospel and we begin with grace. For when we begin to see ourselves in our need for God and in our need for His mercy, the playing field begins to be made level, and all pride is taken away. Only then will God begin to bring about unity.

Jesus on the night before the cross prays for Himself, His disciples, and then for us: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20b-23).

How is it that the world will believe and know the truth of God made manifest in Christ? Only when they see unity and oneness in His people….

Glory to God!

Jason