What is Our Answer When Jesus Calls?

A grand adventure awaits us but only if we are willing to leave what we have behind

The first chapter of Mark talks about Jesus calling his disciples. As he walks along the shore, he comes across two brothers fishing. Jesus says, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:16-18, NIV).

What a powerful way for Jesus to cast a vision. He takes the routine of what they’re doing, fishing in order to earn money. He turns it into a metaphor for a mission. Instead of seeking fish to sell in order to survive, Jesus calls these two men into something greater, to seek people for his kingdom.

While Jesus’s metaphor makes perfect sense to us today. I wonder how his disciples received it then? Were they confused by his call for them to fish for men? I think I would have been.

Yet something about what Jesus says compels them. For they stop what they’re doing, abandon the tools of their trade, and go with him. In that instant they make a life-changing decision. They give up what is normal, what is common, so they can pursue something that is grand and beyond them. Jesus invites them into a great adventure, and they accept, without hesitation.Jesus calls them to a great adventure, and they accept, without hesitation. Click To Tweet

What is Jesus calling us to do today? I wonder if he wants all of us to give up what is normal, what is common to us, so we can pursue something that is grand and beyond us?

I suspect that what God has in store for each of us is beyond what we can expect or even hope for. He offers us something more. It’s up to us to take hold of what he wants to give us. It’s up to us to answer his call.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Mark 1, and today’s post is on Mark 1:16-18.]

What Is Your Path?

When we focus on other people, we may lose sight of our own calling

As Jesus wraps up his stint on earth, he spends some time with his disciples, the core group he trained for three years. They will need to carry on without him, and he wants to make sure they’re ready.

First, he must deal with Peter, who, a few days earlier, denied he even knew Jesus. Jesus is gentle but sure. To counter Peter’s three denials, Jesus has his wayward disciple give three affirmations of love. After each one, Jesus tells Peter to “Care for those who follow me.”

Then Jesus tells Peter what his future will entail. It ends with execution. But Jesus tells Peter to follow him, regardless.

Likely squirming and wanting to change the subject, Peter notices John and asks Jesus what the future holds for this disciple, “What are your plans for him?”

Jesus won’t play along. He basically says, “It doesn’t matter. You must do what I told you to do: follow me.”

It’s easy to become distracted by other people: People who seem to have more success, at least by the world’s standards; people who radiate God’s love in a way we fear we never will; or people who pray with a faith that eludes us.God says, “It doesn’t matter what others do, you must follow me." Click To Tweet

Frustrated and discouraged, we may ask God, “What are your plans for them?”

To which God says, “It doesn’t matter what others do, you must follow me.”

Look straight ahead and follow Jesus. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with what others are doing.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 21, and today’s post is on John 21:15-22.]

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Does Jesus Offend You?

Though many people like an easy Jesus, not everyone accepts what he says

Jesus normally teaches the masses in parables. Though most don’t really understand what he means, they like his stories because they’re so countercultural. Plus, he sometimes gives them food and heals them. He’s a cool speaker who does nice things for them. What’s not to like?

Then one day he speaks to them directly. He’s blunt. There’s no compelling story, just some weird message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He’s not talking about actual cannibalism; it’s a metaphor—of some sorts. It’s about life and death, sacrifice and reward.

The people grumble. They complain he’s hard to understand and say no one can accept his message. Many of his followers become ex-followers. They reject him and go in search for something else, but the disciples stick around; they’re all in.When things get tough, Jesus’s disciples stick around. They’re all in. Click To Tweet

Yes, the main message of Jesus is easy. He loves everyone and opens his arms to accept us. But sometimes he’s hard to understand, too. Sometimes his message offends people. Their response is to give up on Jesus.

But I’m all in. I hope you are, too.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 6, and today’s post is on John 6:53-68.]

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Is Being a Christian Easy or Hard?

Regardless of circumstances, God walks with us

In Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth, he warns them not to deceive others or distort God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2). That is, don’t misrepresent God’s character or intent to the world.

Yet, this happens. Some people, in their zeal for Jesus, promise those on the outside that if they just say “yes” to Jesus, then all their problems will go away and life will become easy.

It doesn’t work that way.

Jesus says to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28), that his followers may pay a price for their commitment to him.

Paul details this heavy cost. But along with each threat he gives assurance of God’s provision (2 Corinthians 4:8-9):

  • Hard pressed from every direction, but not crushed
  • Perplexed, but not in despair.
  • Persecuted, but not
  • Struck down, but not

God promises we will not be defeated, anguished, forgotten, or ruined. Click To TweetSo when we follow Jesus we can expect to be harassed, mystified, attacked, and hurt. Yet in this, God promises we will not be defeated, anguished, forgotten, or ruined.

We must count the cost before we follow Jesus, because committing ourselves to him may bring about hardship, but take courage knowing that God will prevail and help us through these trying situations.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 4, and today’s post is on 2 Corinthians 4:2, 8-9.]

Are You Grafted Unto God’s Family Tree?

God removes branches from his tree and adds others to it

God can graft our branches onto His treeIn Romans 11 Paul talks about graft. Not political graft but the biological kind. In this case, grafting takes a branch from one tree and attaches it to the stock of another tree. When done correctly the added branch will grow into the trunk of the other tree and will thrive.

Farmers often do this to combine the fruit produced by one tree with the hardy stock of another. In this way they get a resilient tree that yields desirable fruit.

Paul uses this type of grafting as an analogy to teach us about God’s kingdom and us.

Think of God and his people as a tree, with him as the root and us as the branches. Some branches of the tree are unworthy, and he breaks them off. But he also takes branches from other trees and grafts them on. The result is a beautiful hodgepodge of different branches all growing on one tree, God’s tree.Think of God and his people as a tree, with him as the root and us as the branches. Click To Tweet

From this Paul makes several points, implicitly about Jews and Gentiles:

  • When people reject Jesus, as some Jews did, God will remove them from his tree.
  • When people on the outside, Gentiles, accept Jesus, God grafts them onto his tree; he unites with them.
  • Just as God grafted Gentile branches onto his tree, even more so can he reattach the Jewish branches he once removed. This is exciting news.
  • Last, just as God removed some Jewish branches from his tree, so too will he remove some Gentile branches if they don’t produce fruit.

This analogy gives us much to ponder. It provides hope for all people. But along with it comes a serious responsibility to not take our standing with God for granted and to make sure we produce fruit.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 11, and today’s post is on Romans 11:16-24.]

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Should Paul’s Self-Description Inspire Our Faith Perspective?

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with three traits for us to ponder

Through Jeses we are, His servant, called, set apartPaul begins his letter to the church in Rome by giving them an overview of his situation. He shares three characteristics about himself, his mission, and his calling. Though he does this to establish credibility for his message, and thereby encourage the recipients to take his words seriously, the attributes seem like a mini-biography, one with spiritual importance.

In Paul’s self-assessment, he says he is:

A Servant of Jesus: I like to call myself a follower of Jesus—as opposed to the more general description of Christian, which means different things to different people. Being a follower of Jesus shows commitment, yet it still implies I have some say in the matter, that I made a choice.

Being a servant, however, carries with it a deeper commitment. I need to move my mindset from being a follower to becoming a servant. Maybe you do, too.

Called to be an Apostle: Instead of focusing on the meaning of the word apostle, which could suggest a missionary, a church leader, or a passionate adherent (all of which describe Paul), let’s instead focus on the word called. What does it mean to be called by God?

While we may not have a calling at the same high level as Paul, all Christians are called, first to follow Jesus (as in “Come and follow me,” Matthew 4:19) and then to obey him (John 8:51). As we serve him he will tell us to do other things, too. These are our callings, even if we’re not traveling around the world as his missionary.Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart. Click To Tweet

Set Apart for the Gospel: While being set apart could be a Spirit-led summoning of the highest order (Acts 13:2), it could also be a simple command to set ourselves apart from the world, to not be conformed to it (Romans 12:2). Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart in this way, while being open for him to also set us apart for something greater.

If we are a true Christian (as opposed to being one in name only), we will do well to adopt the attitude of Paul: that through Jesus we are his servant, called, and set apart.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 1, and today’s post is on Romans 1:1.]

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12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of God

Consider the kingdom of God as the ultimate church model

12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of GodLast Sunday we pointed out that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God but we made a church. The Bible records Jesus talking about the kingdom of God (and the comparable phrase, kingdom of heaven) eighty-five times. Jesus only mentions church three times.

To guide how we should function as his followers today, we must consider what Jesus says about the kingdom of God. Here are twelve key truths about the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God:

1) Is Close: A dozen times or more Jesus proclaims the present reality of the kingdom of God. He says it is near (Luke 10:11), it is upon you (Luke 11:20), and in your midst (Luke 17:21). It happened in that generation (Luke 21:32), and some saw it before they died (Luke 9:27).

2) Belongs to Us: Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of God has been given to them (Mark 4:11). As his followers today, his modern-day disciples, that truth extends to us. Another time Jesus tells the crowd that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Luke 6:20). Here he specifically connects with poor people, but aren’t most all of us poor in this world? (And if we consider ourselves rich, see #3.)

3) Is an Enigma: The kingdom of God is hard to understand (Luke 8:10), happens while we are alive (Luke 9:27), and goes against our sense of order (Luke 13:30). It can’t be seen (Luke 17:20), is hard for the wealthy to grasp (Luke 18:18-24), and is a secret to many (Mark 4:11). Yep, the kingdom of God is very much an enigma, but we need to try to understand it. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can.

4) Has Different Priorities: The kingdom of God is more important than anything else (Luke 9:60-62), which includes church, by the way. In the kingdom of God we will have spiritual greatness (Luke 7:28) and experience the first being last and the last being first (Luke 13:30); see #3 enigma.

5) Provides Great Reward: What we give up for the kingdom of God will be given back many times over in eternity (Luke 18:29-30).

6) Requires Total Commitment: We need to remove anything that holds us back from the kingdom of God (Mark 9:47) and give up things that seem important (Mark 10:29), but when we do there will be a great return.

7) Represents Good News: Jesus says the kingdom of God is good news (Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1), which he shares with others. We should do the same; see #8.

8) Must be Shared: Not only does Jesus share the good news of the kingdom of God, but he wants us to do the same (Luke 8:1) and as we go, he expects us to heal people (Luke 9:2). Yep, the kingdom of God is about supernatural healing; see #9.

9) Includes Miracles: Part of the kingdom of God is healing (Luke 9:11, Luke 9:2, Luke 10:9) and driving out demons (Luke 11:20, Matthew 12:28). Don’t skip this part. The Bible says these supernatural feats are part of the kingdom of God package. And don’t we want the total package?

10) Offers a Huge Impact: The kingdom of God may start out small, but it grows into something significant (Luke 13:18-20), just like a tiny mustard seed and yeast. But the growth part is not our responsibility. God handles that (Mark 4:26-29).

11) Is Open for All and Inclusive: People will flock from all parts of life to be part of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29), especially those on the outside (Luke 14:15-24). Plus it’s open for kids and those with childlike faith (Luke 18:16-17, Mark 10:14); see #12.The people we least expect to be part of the kingdom of God will be there. Click To Tweet

12) Is Counterintuitive: The kingdom of God is hard to enter (Matthew 19:24, Luke 13:23-30), especially for those who place their trust in money (Luke 18:25, Mark 10:17-25). Some of the people we most expect to be part of the kingdom of God will miss out (Luke 13:28, Matthew 21:31) as others take their place (Matthew 21:43, Luke 14:15-24). Being part of the kingdom of God requires we experience a new birth (John 3:3-6), a spiritual rebirth, which requires a simple, unwavering child-like faith (Mark 10:15).

There’s more, but this will get us started.

How can these teachings from Jesus inform how we act today as his followers? This should change everything, but will we let it?

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Can You Love God and Hate Theology?

Debates over theology cause needless distractions and actually keep us from God

Can You Love God and Hate Theology?My theology is an enigma to most people. It’s an enigma to me, too, but I’m okay with that because I don’t much care about theology, at least not how most folks pursue it today.

People often want to engage me in theological discussions, but I’m only good for about ten seconds. Though I can talk about God, faith, and the Bible all day, don’t turn the conversation into an intangible abstraction. God is real, the Bible is alive, and faith is active. So let’s not bog down our discussions in theoretical constructs.

The reason people try to figure out my theological stance is understandable; it’s human nature to want to categorize people. They want to place me in a theological box. Once I’m in a box I’m easier to comprehend, and then they can choose to accept me or shun me. But I don’t fit into their neat packages, the ones that carry convenient labels.

As they ask probing questions, I can see their heads about explode because my answers transcend the various theological perspectives they seek to insert me into. They can’t figure me out or how to catalog my beliefs. Do I align with their views? Or am I one of those other people? You see, I don’t fit nicely into any theological camp; I bounce around a lot.

Consider some of their common questions and my impertinent but seriously sincere answers:

Q: What’s your view on baptism?
A: We should probably do it.

Q: Are you pre-trib or post-trib?
A: It doesn’t matter. What happens will happen.

Q: How do you understand the creation account in the Bible?
A: God made us. The details aren’t relevant to the fact that I’m here.

Q: Do we have free will or are we predestined?
A: Yes.

Q: Are you Reformed, Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist…?
A: Isn’t Jesus the point?

Q: Well, are you Mainline, Evangelical, or Charismatic?
A: I’m a little bit of each.

Q: What’s the best translation of the Bible?
A: The one that we actually read.

Q: What are the essential elements of your faith, the non-negotiables?
A: Just one: follow Jesus.

Q: But what about _______ ?
A: It doesn’t matter.I don’t study theologians. I study God. Click To Tweet

I don’t study theologians. I study God, which is the most basic definition of theology anyway. But I don’t study God to stuff my brain with facts and theories. I seek God so that I can better know him, more fully follow him, and live in community with him. Perhaps that’s my theology.

[This is from the January issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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Put Jesus First This Christmas

If we say “Jesus is #1,” our actions should confirm that, not prove us to be a liar

Put Jesus First This ChristmasThe person’s Twitter profile was very telling. In fact, I almost missed what should have been her main point. Her key claim was tacked at the end of her 160-character bio, buried in the last eleven characters. Almost as an afterthought she added: “Jesus is #1.”

Am I the only one who finds this ironic?

If Jesus is truly number one, shouldn’t he be listed first and not tucked at the very end? (Wait, let me go check my Twitter profile…whew! It’s all good. I open with “I follow #Jesus.” Not just Jesus mind you, but #Jesus. Not only do I list him first, but I accord him hashtag status for better discoverability.)

Most Christians would say that they put Jesus first. It’s a great concept, but what does it really mean? How do we go about putting Jesus first in actual practicality?5 things we should do if Jesus is #1 in our lives. Click To Tweet

Here are some ideas to consider:

Do What He Would Do: As a starting point we put Jesus first by following his example, by doing what he would do. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. I’ll talk about this in greater detail in two weeks, so be sure to come back for that.

Spend Time With Him: In theory we spend time with the people who are important to us. (Though that’s another thought deserving serious contemplation.) If Jesus is truly number one, truly important to us, we need to spend time with him. But how? Prayer is one way. Reading the Bible is another. How about engaging in other spiritual disciplines such as fasting, observing the Sabbath, service, community, solitude, stewardship, worship…? You get it.

Have Him Walk With Us Through Life: Yes, Jesus is always with us, and therefore goes wherever we go. But let’s move this from spiritual abstraction to effective experience. What if we imagined a physical Jesus at our side as we walked through life? He would actually go with us where we go, literally watch what we do, and really hear what we say—in everything and everyway. What aspects of where we go, what we do, and the things we say would glare as an embarrassment? If Jesus is truly first, the answer should be nothing. But I suspect we all have some work to do in this area.

Be His Ambassador: As Jesus’s followers, we represent him to the world. We serve the role of ambassadors. Therefore our actions do not reflect us, but ultimately him. We need to carry ourselves in a manner worthy of this high calling that he has given us. The world is watching. They’re watching us, but they’re judging him.

Make a Difference: The four biographies of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—show us a Jesus who made a difference everywhere he went. No effort was wasted. Every action had purpose. He left a wake of changed lives. We should do the same.

If Jesus is to be number one in our lives, we have some work to do. We must move this from sentimentality to actuality. Let’s start today: Make Jesus number one in tangible ways.

As we celebrate Jesus this Christmas, let our first gift be to him: a gift of making him number one.

Merry Christmas!

[This is from the December issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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We Should Be Like Jesus

To discover WWJD (what would Jesus do) we need only look at what the Bible says

We Should Be Like JesusJesus goes to the synagogue in his hometown to worship God with his family and friends. It’s his turn to read scripture and the day’s scheduled passage is from Isaiah; it’s a prophecy – about Jesus. After he reads it, Jesus simply confirms that he fulfills this prophecy (Luke 4:16-21.)

In the section Jesus reads, Isaiah prophetically tells the people that the coming savior will move in Holy Spirit power to:

  • proclaim good news to the poor
  • bind up the brokenhearted
  • proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners
  • proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God
  • comfort all who mourn
  • provide for those who grieve in Zion
  • bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes
Isaiah gives a mini-job description for Jesus, one that we can implement today. Click To Tweet

This is essentially Jesus’s job description: to speak truth to those who are seeking, provide help to those in need, and give hope to those who hurt. As his followers we should do the same. Though it will take a lifetime to put these things into practice, this is why God leaves us here on earth and what we should do with our time here. It starts with the Holy Spirit.

If we love Jesus we need to do what he would do, starting today.

How can you put these things into practice? In practical terms, how can you implement one of these actions?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 61-63, and today’s post is on Isaiah 61:1-3.]