Tuesday, September 21, 2021

What Do You Mean By "Following Jesus"?


Probably because of the terminal mass of assumptions that have been attached to the term "Christian", it has become popular to identify oneself as a Jesus Follower. It's an attempt to differentiate oneself from merely attending church or from adhering to a particular set of mostly-radically-right-wing political positions.

In essence, I applaud the effort. But last Wednesday night's Bible study at my home congregation made me take a closer look at the concept of following Jesus.

We were looking at the first chapter of Mark's gospel, and I was particularly impacted by Francis Chan's comments about Mark 1:16-20, which reads:

 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay, he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Chan's passionate comments about those verses focused on how different following Jesus was for those fishermen compared to what most of us mean when we use the term.

James and John didn't just agree with what Jesus was teaching. Simon and Andrew went beyond meeting weekly at the local synagogue. When they became Jesus Followers, they actually...you know...got off their duffs and followed Jesus.

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Truth is...If I'm going to call myself a Jesus follower, it involves more than an intellectual assent. It requires action. I need to pay attention to where Jesus is going and what Jesus is doing and I need to go there and do that.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Whose Side Are You On and Does It Make a Difference?


Today we find our hero (Calvin of Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes) making a grave mistake.

Sadly, an attempt to remedy the situation doesn't mitigate his teammates' wrath.

There are two ways to go with this:

       1. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Just as Calvin felt proud of his accomplishment in getting the out, there are times when a person thinks they're doing a good thing when it's really a score for "the other side." Case in point: thinking you're taking a stand for righteousness when what you're really accomplishing is the continuation of a people-hating, Bible-thumping stereotype that has never drawn anyone into the Kingdom.

       2. What kind of army kills its wounded? Calvin's teammates could have turned this into a teachable moment and help mold Calvin into a productive member of the team. Instead, they condemned and rejected him. Kind of like blogging about Bible-thumpers.

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Truth is...We've all stood on both sides of this equation and are equally dependent on the grace of God.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Disproportional Legend of the Pony Express


Think about all you've ever heard, seen, or read about the Pony Express.

Between movies, television, and books, we've been entertained by stories of those 400 horses, 180 riders, and 1900 miles of the Immigrant Trail our whole lives.

Now think about this. The Pony Express closed its operations just two days after the first cross-continental telegraph message: an assurance of support from the chief justice of California to President Lincoln.

The Pony Express casts a pretty long shadow for a business venture that only lasted nineteen months.

But still, those legends and tall tales are practically nothing when compared to the real-life impact made by a rag-tag group of fishermen, civil servants, and would-be political activists led by a backwater carpenter-turned-rabbi.

Truth is... The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.(Matthew 13:31-32 NLT)

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

How to Be a True Alpha


I hope you will appreciate the following excerpt from The Wisdom of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher as much as I do.

"The wolves of the Sawtooth Pack … had spent the last three days working through the carcass of a 600-pound bull elk and were enjoying the resulting food stupor, resting at the edge of the forest on a crisp October afternoon. During our years at wolf camp, we did our best to re-create the way wolves live in the wild, mimicking the success or failure of a hunt, bringing in road-killed elk and deer at irregular intervals. After such a big meal, they wouldn't need to eat again for several days.

"It was a picture of pure contentment. Motomo and Amani basked in a patch of sunshine. Snarling and growling in mock battle, Wahots and Wyakin played tug-of-war with a leftover piece of elk hide. Matsi and Lakota snoozed side by side. Chemukh, always the loner, gnawed on the end of an antler a few yards away. Kamots sat and calmly watched his pack.

"Suddenly he lifted his head to full attention and his body became tense. The forest was quiet save for the occasional croaking of ravens, but his ears pivoted forward and he turned to point his nose toward something distant and unseen. With sudden purpose he rose to his feet and trotted away with that cool, determined gait that wolves have. Motomo and Amani lifted their heads to watch him go, and then settled back down. They knew Kamots. Whatever it was, he had it covered.

"Fifteen minutes later he reappeared at the same confi­dent trot, rejoined the others, and lay back down. It must have been a false alarm, possibly an elk moving through the nearby forest or the distant falling of a long-dead tree. His body language told all that there was no cause for concern. Whatever was going on, he dealt with it. That's just who he was.

"For the better part of nine years Kamots was the undis­puted leader of the Sawtooth Pack. Under his protection, the pack thrived. From a filmmaker's perspective, he was beautiful to behold. His looks were classic-gray with a charcoal saddle, a dark face mask above a light muzzle. He wasn't the biggest wolf in the pack, but the way he stood often made him appear so. He held his head and tail high and kept his ears up and alert. When he moved, it was with an unhurried confidence and certainty. His eyes were his most expressive feature. They were light amber, almost yellow, and in an instant they could flash from serious to mischievous, to concerned, to disarm­ingly sweet. The joys and the burdens of his role seemed to play across his face constantly, making him one of the most engaging wolves to film, photograph, or just watch. In looks, in bearing, and in behavior he was the embod­iment of an alpha wolf.

"We've noticed lately that the word 'alpha' is falling out of favor among some biologists. They would rather use the dry observational term 'breeding adult.' Unfortu­nately, the word 'alpha' has also come to be used to describe aggressive, hypercompetitive human males, which further conveys the wrong impression. Yes, alphas are the breeding male and female -- but they are so much more than the dominant individuals of the pack. After spending years in Kamots's company, we have concluded that being an alpha has almost nothing to do with aggres­sion and everything to do with responsibility. Alphas are driven from within to shoulder the well-being of the entire pack. They patrol the boundaries of their territory, looking for danger. They are keepers of pack knowledge where to find prey and how best to hunt it. Alphas are assured, alert, and compassionate. A true alpha is a leader in the very best sense."

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Truth is...leading with assurance, alertness, and compassion has self-interest and aggression beat all to pieces.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?


Thanks to Michael Spencer's insightful book, Mere Churchianity, for the following outline of the different kinds of Jesus different kinds of believers believe in.

Jesus on the cross
This is where Jesus begins and ends for many Christians. Despite believing that Jesus arrived on earth as a newborn and came back to life after being executed, the only thing Jesus did that makes any real difference for most people was that he died for the sins of the world. The tight focus on Jesus hanging on the cross is a version of Jesus where his other works, miracles, words, and overall mission are secondary. Sure he said some things and healed some people and taught people how to live. But all of that pales by comparison to preaching about the cross or focusing on the Eucharist.

Jesus the guru
This version sees Jesus' unjust execution on a Roman cross as the inevitable outcome of a good man living a life of love in a bad world, a la Martin Luther King Jr. What matters to these Christians is Jesus' teaching. If we could put the teaching of Jesus into practice, then we'd live like real Christians and the world would be a better, more peaceful place.

Jesus the miracle worker
This is the Jesus who solves problems by his superpowered ability to make bad things go away and good things happen. If he could cure a leper and bring corpses back to life two thousand years ago, he can deal with the problems people have today. Jesus the miracle worker is important in the present and has little real contact with the Jesus of the New Testament. He's mostly about hearing our prayers, changing things to match our desires, and sending miracles to whomever needs one.

Jesus the promoter
Jesus is always up to something big. He builds bigger churches, raises astounding amounts of cash, and sponsors huge religious events in stadiums. This version of Jesus can almost always be found in a venue with incredible music, entertaining video effects, and good-looking, upbeat speakers. He's the Jesus you meet when you find that awesome megachurch that has everything you need for a great religious experience.

Jesus the culture warrior
The culture-warrior Jesus is concerned about the public display of the Ten Commandments and the effect of Hollywood movies on your children. He fully approves of a number of political agendas, and his advice to his followers is to hunker down, take care of yourselves, and fight for America  -  a country that Jesus is particularly fond of. (No matter that he is a Palestinian Jew.)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

All of these versions of Jesus contain truth, but they are not the whole truth.

Borrowing some more from Mere Churchianity:

Jesus did die on the cross and was raised from the dead, but that's not the entire gospel message.

Jesus' teachings deliver crucial knowledge, but Jesus is far more than just a motivational change agent. He gives people a new identity and a new life, not just better doctrine.

God is compassionate and a worker of miracles, but let's face it: Jesus doesn't always solve our problems. He is not a celestial vending machine.

There is no question Jesus is doing a big thing in history. He is advancing the biggest agenda ever: to bring all believing people from every nation into the Kingdom of God. But it's a mistake to equate Jesus with our ideas of importance or accomplishment, like attending a church that operates its own water park or having a laser show at the 11:00 a.m. service.

Jesus cares about what happens to children, families, and culture, but Jesus doesn't use morality to change the world, and he doesn't equip his followers with political weapons.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I find myself humbly agreeing with C. S. Lewis, who said, "I need Christ, not something that resembles him."

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Nicene Creed: So What?


This blog just spent 33 weeks looking at the Nicene Creed line-by-line. Next to each snippet from the creed were related sections of Scripture. It was an attempt to validate those faith-tenents that millions of believers have hung their hats on through the centuries.

But why bother? What was the point?

One positive is the realization that there really is more that unites all the different denominations than the mostly inconsequential things that seek to divide us.

But a clue to the even bigger deal was in the "Truth is..." conclusion to the very first posting:

Truth is...no condensation of thoughts or tidy list of beliefs can do the entire breadth of Scripture justice, but maybe this will help get things into bite-sized chunks suitable for digestion and life-change.

Oooooh...that last hyphenate..."life-change". Why did I have to go and bring THAT up?

Life-change really is what it's all about, isn't it? What good does saying I believe in this or that or the other thing do if the way I live my life isn't affected by those beliefs?

So we say we believe the power of the Holy Spirit reanimated Jesus' dead body, validating every word he ever spoke. So what?

So LIVE like your Lord is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. Let your life be a reflection of that knowledge, love, and power. "Let your light so shine..."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is..."Anyone who listens to [Jesus'] teaching AND FOLLOWS IT is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock." (Matthew 7:24 NLT)

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Heaven's Gonna Be a Blast


Per the Nicene Creed:

[We look for] the life of the world to come.

Per the Holy Bible:

Since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

Romans 8:17-25 (NLT)

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Philippians 3:20-21

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

2 Peter 3:13

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Truth is...while none of us knows exactly what heaven will be like, Scripture assures us that when Jesus returns, he will make all things right and restore the world to its original intent of unhindered fellowship with Yahweh and with each other. There will be no negative results from the presence of sin or sickness, "and he will wipe every tear from our eyes." (Revelation 7:17)

Bonus Treat...Here's a yee-hah kind of knee-slappin' song from the early days of Jesus Music that's the source of this post's title and a reason to sing along with Honeytree.