Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of Matthew’
The Lord will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
MATT. 16:13 – “Who do people say I am?” “…and who do you say I am?”
Is this not the perennial question or questions before us? Who does the world say Jesus is and who do I say he is? The tension these question(s) bring and my response to them is what hangs in the balance—always before me—always begging an answer.
My heart is ready, O God; I will sing your praise. O LORD, Open my lips—and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
I say Jesus is God. I say he not only existed in the flesh and walked this same earth as two thousand years ago, but I say he is; in fact, the Immortal, Ancient of Days, who has always existed even before time was. He is the One who has no beginning or end, but simply… IS. I say he is the very breath that animates my body and the energy, which gives the spark of life to my soul. At times I can feel the smothering crackle of His Presence all around me, and flowing through me… at other times my faith must lay a siege works against my doubt, so I might be reminded evermore that He is near.
Rejoice in the Lord always. The Lord is near.
Who do I say He is? I say He is Jesus, my Savior, my Lord, and my God… Regardless of my confession, no matter the radical nature of my conversion and transformation to His nature and image, I wrestle and groan while in this body. I only see in part—I only understand as much as this failing body and mind will allow. Yes, the Spirit transforms and reveals; I am being changed from glory to glory, but that will not be complete until He fulfills all things. I only see in part and I long to be made whole—truly whole, where all wrestling ceases and I cry no more.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
May the God of peace sanctify us entirely; and may our spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls us is faithful and will do this—Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Thank you, Almighty God, for your Ruach, the Spirit Breath, which keeps me alive in You.
[13APRIL2012] Eastertide Devotional Series
I will be posting this devotional series as part of my Eastertide reflections for the next three weeks (see this link for other installments in the series). Each week of this devotional series focuses on a specific theme (week one: brokenness, week two: repentance, and week three: renewal). I hope you’ll enjoy the series and I invite you to comment here on the blog or email me direct; I would love to hear your thoughts.
Brokenness: Week 1 | Day 5
In these readings we are provided an account of the proceedings when Jesus is presented for questioning by the high priest, Caiaphas. As I read about the events taking place, I notice evidence of brokenness in the life of Peter that has striking similarities to my own brokenness.
Some of the first words in this account explain that Jesus is being taken to the high priest’s home to be questioned. As Jesus is brought before the council of elders, we are also told the following:
“Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end.” (Matt. 26:58)
It is easy to speculate why Peter may have “followed at a distance,” but further into the events of the evening in question we are told Peter denies any knowledge or affiliation with Jesus (Matt. 26:69-74). I have heard many explanations on the reasons why Peter may have acted in the manner he did on that evening…I have heard that it was cowardice, frustration with Jesus, misunderstanding of Jesus’ actions, and even anger with Jesus. Any of these explanations may be valid, but two things we know are indisputably true; (1) Peter put distance between himself and Jesus, and (2) Peter emphatically denied knowing Jesus even to the point of cursing himself in the process.
The similarities of Peter’s actions and my own may be separated by generations of culture and situational circumstance, but I believe there are similarities nonetheless. On this particular night Peter had professed deep love and undying loyalty to Jesus. Also on this night, Peter had been willing to fight for Jesus…even perhaps to the death since he had stricken a guard with his own sword. Yet when his loyalty was pressed, whatever his motivation and reason, Peter distanced himself from Jesus and when cornered, he denied Jesus altogether. I admit my brokenness has defeated my loyalty to Jesus at times when I wanted to be popular, when I have been involved in career advancement and with issues of money and with taxes…even at times when I have been involved in buying and selling. My actions have betrayed knowledge of Jesus in the ways I have acted less than Christ-like and devoid of an ethic that honors Jesus.
Can you think of times that you may have “placed distance” between you and Jesus? Have you been guilty of denying Jesus out right or through your actions?
Our Prayer: Dear Jesus, I don’t have to listen long before I can hear the cock crowing in my own life. I surrender my brokenness to you with humility and sadness. I know there are times that I have denied you and I have not admitted it. I feel that by not talking about it, maybe it didn’t happen, but I know that it has. I ask your forgiveness and I ask you to help me be bold in my faith, help me to walk closely with you and never allow distance between us that would provide me with opportunity to deny you ever again. I wish to be seen with you and be like you as you want me to be. Amen.
[11APRIL2012] Eastertide Devotional Series
For 20-days leading up to Easter Sunday, I had the privilege of writing a devotional series for my church. I will be posting this devotional series as part of my Eastertide reflections for the next three weeks. Each week in this devotional series consisted of a specific theme (week one: brokenness, week two: repentance, and week three: renewal). I hope you’ll enjoy the series and I invite you to comment here on the blog or email me direct; I would love to hear your thoughts.
Brokenness: Week 1 | Day 3
Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:15-26
This portion of Scripture typifies, to me, the example of “mountaintop” and “valley” experiences, which occur over the course of the Christian journey. In this first section of this passage, Jesus asks his disciples; “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to confess that Jesus is Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus affirms and celebrates Peter’s proclamation testifying to this moment being a high point in the life of Peter.
How quickly things can change…
Soon after the revelation of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus begins to explain to his disciples about his coming Passion, the journey to Jerusalem that would culminate in his arrest, torture, and crucifixion. The Scriptures reveal that it was this explanation by Jesus that caused Peter to pull Jesus aside and rebuke him for speaking about such things, saying; “Heaven forbid, Lord, this shall never happen to you.”
Jesus immediately responds to Peter with a rebuke of his own, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
The brokenness we experience even as followers of Jesus can be manifest so quickly. In this particular account between Peter and Jesus, we see in one moment, Peter speaking under inspiration of the Holy Spirit…truth revealed, Jesus says, by God alone. In the next incident, Peter goes from being called (by Jesus) a vessel of God to a minister of Satan. Why? Brokenness can distort our perception and sensibilities. From the mind of man, Peter is doing a noble thing by wanting to prevent Jesus’ going to Jerusalem. Jesus is Messiah; Jesus can share about the Kingdom of God… Jesus can change the world. Clearly, it is better for Jesus to remain alive rather than to be captured and killed. Right?
Our brokenness often distorts what appears to be the right thing with things that may not be what God desires. Often, we do not see the plan of God in circumstances because we think with “our mind” or the mind of man. We should always seek to understand the plan of God and surrender our thinking to the mind of Christ, so we might not be a hindrance to the will and the way of God.
Take some time to reflect on times when you were disturbed by what you thought “God wanted” to do in a circumstance. Could you see a “better” plan that you wanted to implement? Did you implement your plan because it seemed better? (examples might be: financial investments, purchases, career moves, child rearing, other personal relationships, etc.)
Our Prayer: Father, I confess that I do not always understand your plans. Often it seems that I know a better way or a way that might involve less stress for me. It hurts me to think that when I consider your plans difficult that I might be a stumbling block used by Satan. It is hard for me to let go of control in circumstances that I might manipulate for what seems like my good. Help my faith, Lord, so I might trust your plans even when they appear scary to me. I know you have good planned for your people even when the short term outcome might bring challenges for us. Provide for us your strength for the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.
[31MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 39—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Psalms 5:1-2; 41:13
Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, from age to age. Amen. Amen.
Matthew 10:32“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.”
What is public acknowledgment? Is it a verbal confession or does it run much deeper than words? I think it is the latter of the two. While a verbal confession might be the beginning (or the end) of formal and public acknowledgment, the veracity and manifest evidence of that public acknowledgment is realized in the life of the confessor. The two cannot be separate. The life lived is the public acknowledgment whether there are words used or not.
“Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.” -Thomas Kelly
This brings to bear more severity in the analysis of what it means to “deny Christ here on earth.” I can only serve up critical examination of my own life by asking if the life I live represents one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, all his soul, all his strength, and all his mind. This is what I define as public acknowledgment or public denial. While I may fall short of perfecting my love on this earth, I do believe it is the pursuit of that perfection for which I will be judged. God alone knows what “giving my all” is. If I am giving less than my all, I fear that falls into the realm of denial on this earth.
Galatians 6:7-8Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
I pray, Lord Jesus, be my guide and my grace, my merciful helper, who orders and sustains my ability to live openly before others in such a way that it never disowns or denies you. I desire, at all cost, to live a life worthy of the life you lived and did for me. My words may often seem empty and without meaning if there is not the substance of the life lived in faith that is evidenced in their wake. May the life I live bring glory to you now and for ever. Amen.
[07MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 15—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Gospel - Matthew 20:20-28
“Remember your mercy, O LORD, and the love you have shown from of old. Do not remember my sins; In your love remember me.”
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 ”What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 ”You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” ”We can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup…”
I think at some moment in time that we journey with Jesus we too are asked this question; “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” If we have decided that we are followers of Jesus, the cup will come. What is in the cup specifically may vary from believing follower to believing follower, but the cup comes and the general contents will always be some form of suffering test. The cup is bitter and difficult to drink, the same as it was for Jesus. The question remains though, will we drink the cup to the bottom as Jesus did. To follow Jesus means a cup will come to us. Can we drink it? Will we drink it?
[28DEC2011] He Knows How Weak We Are
♦ Gospel -Matthew 2:13-23
Today was a day to remember the first martyrs of the Church, the holy innocents that were killed on the command of Herod who hoped to destroy the Messiah King Jesus. While reading this passage my mind began to wander thinking about the flight of Joseph and Mary to Egypt as they were ordered by the angel of the Lord who appeared to Joseph in a dream. I thought about the early years of Jesus and how he grew up from infant to toddler, toddler to little boy, adolescence, puberty, young manhood… and man.
My first thoughts about Jesus almost always consider his deity. It’s hard for me to naturally think of Jesus in the terms of “average joe.” The Bible gives me reason to believe that Jesus grew up similarly as would any other young man his age and in his culture. Philippians 2:5-9 reads that Jesus specifically “gave up his divine privileges, took the humble position of a slave and was born a human being…appearing in human form.” Isaiah writes: “he (Jesus) grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:2-4).
It’s hard for me to imagine Jesus falling down as he took his first steps. It’s hard for me to imagine that he was scolded and needed discipline by his parents, but I suppose he must have… how else might he have learned not to touch fire or other things like not to stand behind a donkey or put dirty things into his mouth like little kids might do. I like to think Jesus was this perfect specimen of a man, but that’s not how Isaiah portrays him. Isaiah describes him average at best, maybe even a little unpleasant to look upon considering “he was despised and rejected.” I wonder if his brothers and sisters knew of the scandal surrounding his birth; I wonder if they might have held him in contempt. The Gospel according to Mark recounts a scene where Jesus’ brothers and sisters proclaim him “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). It is hard for me to reconcile man-Jesus with God-Jesus. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I can’t imagine Jesus going through puberty, the awkwardness and physiological changes the body goes through during that life transition. I think about the normal weirdness of life that I’ve experienced and just can’t seem to imagine God experiencing these things, but the lessons and teaching about Christ Jesus, the Incarnation, seem to teach us that Jesus did experience the normalcy of growing up as an “average Joe” or average son of Joe as it were.
So, I was still thinking about these things…still wrestling with some way to organize them neatly in my head when I began to pray my way through Psalm 103.
1 Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
15 Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
16 The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.
17 But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children 18 of those who are faithful to his covenant,
of those who obey his commandments!
I’m very familiar with this Psalm and love to worship with words and heart filled with adoration as I linger over each line and verse. I am thankful and forever grateful as the mercies of my LORD are revealed in the promises and truth of this Psalm… I never get tired or bored singing these words and claiming them through faith as my own… But remember; I was still considering “average joe Jesus” when I entered into this Psalm of praise and worship.
The significance of sharing this reminder comes in realizing something new about verses eight through fourteen. All of the sudden as I was reading these, I was thinking about the Eternal characteristics of God and realizing that average joe Jesus was also the King of Eternal Creation, the Alpha and Omega, and although he set aside his divine nature for a season, he still was Sovereign and All-Knowing on both sides of that “dash” into linear time. Here’s what I’m saying… As awesome and glorious it is to read these verses, when I read “For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust…” my eyes got hot and burning as tears welled up in them. I realized the reason he remembers we are dust is not just because he formed us from dust, but because he took on our “dust nature.” The compassion he exudes comes from experiencing the devastating nature of sin wrought upon his children. This is why he is “slow to anger” and why “he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.” Sure He is God and this is part of his nature, but the other “part” is that He is average joe Jesus; he was not the most handsome chap on the block…and might have been the last one picked for sides when the local kids were playing Hebrews & Philistines. He knows we are only dust, because he was dust too. He knows how fragile we are, because he was beaten, bruised, and died too. As incomprehensible and shrouded in mystery as this truth is, my faith and my adoring worship for my God and Savior Jesus soar to new heights with the tiny glimmer of understanding I received today in this reflection. I’ll hold on to it and I’ll savor it…and I’ll let the Holy Spirit take it and cement it to the walls of my heart. Amen.
Formation Occurs in Community
Over the last years that I have studied the disciplines of spiritual formation and served as a pastor of discipleship and Christian education, one of the common statements of belief that I’ve read as well as heard over and over is this:
“Discipleship (or spiritual formation) occurs best when people are in community.”
I’ve heard this phrase a number of different ways and the quote above is admittedly my own paraphrase, but the intent of it is accurate and I believe through experiential evidence that it is true… “Formation occurs in community.” All formation occurs in community not only Christian or spiritual formation; every person and every soul is being “formed” by the company they keep and the communities they are associated with. This type of formation occurs in us even when we are least aware of it; we are being formed and shaped by our communities both consciously and subconsciously.
I think one of the wonderful curiosities exhibited in human social behavior is the amount of conscious and subconscious peer pressure human beings have on one another. One of the most powerful examples that immediately comes to my mind is the old saying, “keeping up with the Joneses.” Other examples that are more personal in nature, but just as powerful are memories of how I have been formed in ways that I would not have naturally chosen and the community I was a part of made me into something I probably would not have been. Take for instance my years spent in the US Navy aboard a ship; I was in close community with a group of men from whom there was not much separation for long periods of time. The group that I hung out with had a specific music they listened to, a way of talking and joking with one another, and a few hobbies that were shared by a majority of the members in the community. By the end of almost three years of living with these guys I had adopted most of their mannerisms, grown to be a novice expert in several genres of music, and taken up the hobbies of photography and hi-fidelity audio equipment collecting. Also, my best friend aboard my ship was a fellow who passionately loved old Harley Davidson motorcycles and had a beautifully restored 40-something knucklehead. Although I have forgotten a lot of what he taught me, there was a time I was fairly conversational about the nuances of knucks, shovels, and pans, especially the post WWII years up to the AMF years models… and I never have been a bike rider or owner. Yep, formation occurs in community.
The communities that have born influence over me aren’t limited only to my military experience. I’ve been influenced by sports communities I have belonged to, both as player and as fan. Hobbies have come and gone in my life too, as my community of influence has changed because of season of life and geographical location. Another big influence in my life regarding how I have been shaped is employment. Places I’ve worked and the people I’ve worked with have been incredibly influential in my life. I think the primary reason can be similar to the circumstances experienced in my military years, we spend so much time together. I think work (employment) is probably the place most people spend the greatest amount of their time around the same people. The reality of this statement might be true even to the extent of amount of time you spend with your own family. In other words, you may be influenced by and influencing the people you work with more than your own family because you spend more time with them.
I challenge you to consider your own timeline of life and see if there are places and mile-markers you might recognize where you have been influenced, shaped, and formed by the community you have belonged. My youngest son tried to tell me that he was not easily influenced by community and he was his own person. I found it humorous that he would explain all this to me when most of what he wears has Aeropostle written on it. I brought this to his attention along with several other examples of formation that had occurred in him by forces outside of himself and after a brief moment of tension we had a nice belly laugh together as we mutually recognized how easy it is to be influenced by sources outside ourselves.
The point of this may or may not be obvious, but to my thinking it is fairly easy to conclude that where, how, and what I spend the most of my time doing is going to have the greatest impact on the shaping and formation of who I am. The more I think about it and the more I prayerfully meditate over it, the more I believe that everything affects our spiritual formation. Therefore, all formation is spiritual formation. The reality of this understanding is that some formation has adverse effects on our spiritual development and some aspects of our formation have positive influence developing our spiritual maturity. Formation occurs in community… the question to us is this; “What type of formation are we receiving from the communities that influence us the most?”
The knee-jerk response to this sort of dialogue usually ends up resulting in some discussion involving isolationism, but this is not the answer. As followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be the influencers of all communities. This is what is meant by being a “city on a hill” and “the light of the world.” Cutting ourselves off from some communities and cloistering ourselves in holy seclusion will not be helpful in advancing the kingdom of God. The answer exists in continuing to mix and belong to communities as God directs each and every one of our paths. The point to remember is that we are supposed to be the influencers in our communities… the yeast working its way through the dough of every community and/or the salt that brings flavor to all communities.
Salt has a tendency to lose its flavor and yeast loses its strength too and this is why it is necessary to spend quality time in the context of your faith communities praying for one another, encouraging one another, challenging one another to growth, and being reminded of the life-changing truth of God’s word through the testimonies of one another. After all, what good is salt if it loses its flavor? (Matthew 5:13) All formation occurs in community; what formation are you receiving and what influence are you to the formation of others in your communities?
[22AUG2011] The Big Jesus Questions (Pt.2)
Who do People Say I am?
In my previous post on this topic I posited several questions that immediately came to mind as I was reading this passage. Sifting through the questions in my mind, I think I landed on a couple that seemed to be among the most important of the lot. Question one is, “Why does Jesus ask this question?” The Gospel accounts lead me to believe that Jesus was traveling in the same circles, having similar friends, as the disciples who were closest to him. I am also inclined to believe Jesus was a more astute listener and watcher, more discerning, and more spiritually aware than were the disciples. It seems to me that he would have an answer to the question of who people said he was, so why did he ask the question? This leads me to question two; “Why does it matter?” Why does or did it matter to Jesus who people said he was? First, let me say I believe in an eschatological sense, it matters what people thought/think about Jesus. In the more immediate sense I think what mattered more was the thinking of the disciples, and this is why I think Jesus asks them the question, “Who do people say that I am?“
I believe the question may have been more rhetorical in the sense that Jesus was not looking for an answer as much as he was stirring the gray matter of his disciples. They answered him quickly, “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” However, in each of the Gospel accounts recording this event, Jesus doesn’t stop to explore “other people’s claims” of who he is. Instead, he immediately asks the disciples, “But who do you say I am?” So, does it matter to Jesus what other people think about him or does it matter “who” he is? I’ll say again, eschatalogically, I think it does. The Bible teaches us that it is God’s desire that not one would perish (Matthew 18:14; 2 Peter 3:8-9), but in the context of this particular discourse between Jesus and the disciples, Jesus already knew what the people thought of him and who the people thought he is. During the course of this same conversation Jesus announced to his disciples that people would betray him, torture him, and murder him. He knew what people thought of him and he knew who they thought he was.
What did it accomplish?
I realize I’m projecting my own thoughts here…and the Bible doesn’t tell us the motive behind Jesus’ questions, but I’m thinking through them out loud anyway with hope to understand more clearly what was happening between Jesus and the disciples. My greater hope is by understanding what was going on between them, I’ll better understand those same questions as Jesus directs them to me… “Who do people say that I am?” “But who do you say I am?”
I think there is a similar effect that takes place with all humans. You can try this exercise too, but when I imagine myself in the place of the disciples (though still in my contemporary context) being asked this question, “Who do people say that I am?” I immediately start to think in parallel ideas… First, I think about what people, society, culture says about Jesus. Coming from the camps of those who do not believe, there are voices saying he was a gifted teacher. There are some who say Jesus is a mythological creation and never existed at all. There are conversations that say Jesus is an amalgamation of various gods from many religions and there are others who say he was a Jewish prophet-messiah pretender, but not the Son of God and certainly not God. When considering those professing to be believers, the conversation of “who is Jesus?” gets even more complicated. Nonetheless, as I think about the various views and interpretations of “who people think Jesus is,” I am answering the question myself. With each view I am introduced to about Jesus, I am responding to it whether or not I agree or disagree with said view. So, what did the question to the disciples accomplish? It accomplished the same thing it accomplishes in me (and you). The question causes us to think.
Thinking choices choose Christ
When I think through the choices of interpretations about Jesus available to me, I am compelled to make choices myself. It is near impossible to remain neutral with choices about Jesus. Even neutrality of what I believe is a choice that is based on some belief position about Jesus. There are distinctives surrounding each choice that cause me to think more deeply and examine why I agree or disagree with them. Do I have substantiated or experiential reasons for why I believe or choose one position over another? What kind of response do I have? Is my response intellectual, emotional, spiritual? Am I moved to ask deeper questions; am I moved to seek the answers to my questions? Where do or who do I go to with my questions. Do I seek truth or do I seek self validation? This leads us to the biggest question about Jesus.
But who do you say I am?
This is what it all boils down to; this is the bottom line. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus pushes this question directly to his disciples and it seems as though the answer comes immediately, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It seems as though the answer comes immediately, but remember… these disciples have seen Jesus miraculously feed the multitudes, they’ve seen him walk on water and command the elements of the earth, they have seen him heal deformities, sickness, cast out demons, and raise the dead. They have heard Jesus’ teaching from the Scriptures and they’ve witnessed in person what the prophets wrote about the promised Messiah. Their answer, “You are the Messiah,” no longer seems impetuous, but proven and in light of what others might be saying, well-reasoned and thought out. How does their choice of “who Jesus is” affect them? It is quite possible that the disciple’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, may also be in parallel with the account found in John’s Gospel (John 6:67-71). If this is the case, we see in part how their confession affects their loyalty to the mission of Christ. When asked if they would turn from the difficult teaching and call of Christ, the disciples responded, “Where shall we go…” The confession of “who Jesus was” to the disciples also is evidenced in the transformation of their lives and the single-minded focus of the mission they received from Jesus post resurrection. Each disciple suffered enormous persecution for their faith and determination in advancing the Kingdom of God, most of them suffering to the point of martyrdom.
North America 2011
How does our confession of who Jesus is tangibly manifest itself in our lives? How is Jesus real to you and me? As I mentioned earlier, listening to the voices in my world…in our North American society, we have quite a few versions of Jesus to choose from. There is the “God Wins” Jesus for people who wish not to believe there is or will be a place known as hell. There is a “Prosperity” Jesus for people who wish to live materialistic, greedy, consumer lifestyles while billions of people starve to death every hour of every day. There’s the tolerant and permissive Jesus who many people are a big fan of since this Jesus allows people to live however they wish in order that grace may abound. There’s Patriotic Jesus who favors America first over every other tribe and nation. Then there is Pseudo-denomination Jesus who is like a chameleon adjusting and interpreting the words of the Bible according to the whim and desire of the traditions of men. And these are just a few of the versions of Jesus we can choose from the Western Christian-Deity Shopping Mall. The problem with these and other jesuses like them, is they aren’t Jesus at all…but only who we say is Jesus. In truth, all of these versions of Jesus are really us, and what that means is that we have become disciples of ourselves.
I wonder if given the choice to not follow Jesus or first sell everything you have and give it to the poor then FOLLOW Jesus, how many people would be followers. I wonder if given the choice of walking away from Jesus or FOLLOWING Jesus by way of the Sermon on the Mount how many would walk away. If the evidence of Christian lifestyle in our society is any indicator of the answer, it means most would walk away. Jesus says we are subject to judgment for being angry with one another. He tells us to love our enemies and to love one another as he loves us… yet there is contention, animosity, and hatred in every church and in many households. Jesus says NO to divorce, but the church has accepted it as part of the cost of doing business. Jesus teaches about hoarding and storing up possessions, riches, and the materialism of the world…and the church talks about these things, but not many do anything about it to move in line with the teachings of Jesus. Yes, these are just a handful of items that teach us what we really think about Jesus and how he is truly revealed in our lives. How we live, in accordance with what the Bible reveals about Jesus, is who we say he is.
I look at my life. I look at my heart. I ask myself, “Jeff, who do you say Jesus is?” I say, Jesus is God. I say, Jesus is revealed in the Bible. I say, Jesus invites me to follow him. I say, where else can I go. Jesus taught his disciples (that includes you and me) that “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). Jesus goes on to say of himself that he is the gate (John 10:7-10), and he specifically points out that only he is the way, the truth, and the life—
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)
What people say about Jesus is important as it can and often does influence what we do and how we live. The question for us to answer is who do I say Jesus is. If I say he is God, does my life agree with my words and do both my words and my life agree with Jesus’ teaching from the Bible? Do I walk as Jesus walked? (1 John 2:6 NLT)
If I’ve heard one sermon on this topic, I’ve heard a dozen. I’ve read this Scripture passage I don’t know how many times, but for some reason it has grabbed my attention in a haunting way. The following questions were part of my reading this morning:
Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 16:13-20)
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)
Then he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
I don’t know how long I’ll explore these questions or where exactly the exploration will take me, but my mind is captivated for the moment with many supporting questions, inferences, and implications. I will try to write out some of my thoughts about the questions and what they mean to me in the coming days… For the moment, one particular question keeps jumping to the front of the line of questions forming in my mind. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He is, in effect, asking what people are saying about him or so it seems to me. The inference to me is that there is reason to wonder. What are they (other people) saying, why are they saying it, and what does it mean to me? On the heels of these questions, I am left wondering what this means to me, personally, today. How does this question play into the life of disciples and the Church today? I’ve got more thinking and meditating to do… lots of questions to ponder and I haven’t even gotten to the second question of Jesus.
A Meditation in Personal Devotion [14NOV2010]
Consolations and desolations; these are the ebb and flow of the spiritual journey. These “Seasons of the Soul” are the growing pains experienced as we follow the path of growing in maturity of God’s grace and knowledge. Recognizing these seasons and learning to discern God’s shaping and leading through them is imperative to our following the path and Will of God in our life, or so I believe.
It is part of the core foundation of my faith that God speaks to us, God is always with us, God has a destiny for us (here on this earth and not only ultimate), and God wants us to be fully conformed to the image of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Real belief in these tenets and not just lip service affirmation has significant, life-changing impact on a person; I know it has on me and my family. I have learned to trust the leading of God… and continue to be tested so I learn to trust Him even more. I have learned how to discern the “Voice” of God to me… I have learned with humility how to test my discernment and I have learned (and continue to learn) that humility is purified and further refined through the testing of our obedience to God as we learn to discern His Will for us and follow Him with complete trust.
I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. (Psalm 16:8)
The past several years have been an incredible exercise navigating the labyrinth of consolations and desolations. It seems that praise, ridicule, doubt, and faith are some of the typical mainstays of the spiritual diet through this faith maze of life. While it is not for the faint of heart, I am convinced it is the ultimate path of every true believer… at some level and measure, to forsake their safety in the security of their own making and completely abandon themselves to the ownership and leadership of their God in whom they profess to believe, follow, and obey. A large number of “believers” never do this… at least “believers” that I have known do not. At the risk of beginning a soap box rant, I’ll toss out my theory of why this is so for the people in my own backyard, the good ole USA. Many American Christians equate pursuit of the American Dream (the pursuit and right to life, liberty, and happiness on earth) with the Will of God for their lives. Personally, I believe this is a false presumption; and I’ll stop there.
No one, has a call simply to a particular place, as good as it may be. The call of God is to the Will of God. Consequently, though every institution mediates the call of God for us, every vocation transcends any particular institution. The question is always: is this group, this place calling out the best in me? Is this where I fit? Is this the place where I can most become what God created me to be? Is this the path on which I see the footsteps of God most clearly in front of me? It is not a matter of one place being better than another. It is a matter of finding our way through life with an eye for turns in the road. It is a matter of always taking the right turn when settling for less would be so much easier. It is a matter of seeing change as a creative possibility in life. –Joan Chittister; The Rule of Benedict: Insights For the Ages
It seems not many days escape me that I do not hear one or more of a number of questions spoken by God (in the Bible) to my own soul. Hearing them makes me fidgety and uncomfortable; I think they are meant to make me feel that way as I consider my truthful responses to them. The questions number more than these, but a few that I seem to hear more often follow:
- Don’t you understand even yet? (Matthew 16:9)
- Do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)
- Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)
The way we respond with our words, and subsequent actions, speak volumes to these questions. Sometimes the response can lead to consolations and other times desolations. I was consoled with the words of Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest as I considered some of these this morning.
I being in the way, the Lord led me… (Genesis 24:27)
We have to be so one with God that we do not continually need to ask for guidance. Sanctification means that we are made the children of God, and the natural life of a child is obedience – until he wishes to be disobedient, then instantly there is the intuitive jar. In the spiritual domain the intuitive jar is the monition of the Spirit of God. When He gives the check, we have to stop at once and be renewed in the spirit of our mind in order to make out what God’s will is. If we are born again of the Spirit of God, it is the abortion of piety to ask God to guide us here and there. “The Lord led me,” and on looking back we see the presence of an amazing design, which, if we are born of God, we will credit to God.
We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail. Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God’s appointed order, and be ready to discover the Divine designs any where.
Beware of making a fetish of consistency to your convictions instead of being devoted to God. I shall never do that – in all probability you will have to, if you are a saint. There never was a more inconsistent Being on this earth than Our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father. The one consistency of the saint is not to a principle, but to the Divine life. It is the Divine life which continually makes more and more discoveries about the Divine mind. It is easier to be a fanatic than a faithful soul, because there is something amazingly humbling, particularly to our religious conceit, in being loyal to God. –Oswald Chambers; My Utmost for His Highest
“There is a meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler…” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think this is a great thought to help us remember why it is so important to “pay attention” to how we “pay attention.” The Spirit draws and the Spirit teaches to those who have ears to hear. There is much that goes on in our life that we just breeze past and never pay attention to… many of which are whispers and nudges of the Spirit drawing us closer to His path for our life.
And finally, a few closing “one-liner thoughts” from my journal and recent Scripture reading:
–Matthew 16:23-26 :::::: Beware of thinking with the mind of man… Reformation of the soul cannot come without repentance.
–Nehemiah 13:1-30 :::::: Radical reformation follows repentance.
–Revelation 20:1-6 :::::: There is a second death…and it is forever.
Dear Jesus… My name is Jeff and I’m a recovering sinner; I WILL FOLLOW YOU.