Fear will make you do strange things. It will make you do terrible things.
Fear can make you hurt others. Ultimately, it will hurt you more than anyone else.
Zach Williams has recorded a song titled “Fear Is A Liar”. To date, the official has over 22 million hits. It captures well the destructive nature of fear.
It’s also true that fear functions as a God-given self preservation mechanism. The great quandary which confronts us requires us to discern between real and imagined fears.
As Jesus prepared for his return to heaven at the end of his earthly ministry, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) This promise forms a wonderful bookend to the events of Jesus’ birth.
Jesus was born into an environment filled with fear. His parents had made a long journey to Bethlehem out of obedience, and fear, of the occupying Roman legions. Although Judea experienced relative stability under the rule of Rome and the 33 year reign of Herod, it wasn’t exactly peace as we know it. Many people sought a return to true Jewish independence and purity of worship. While Herod maintained order with an iron hand.
Fear consumed Herod the Great. He was paranoid about protecting his throne. He killed family members. He executed his wife and his brother. He had his sons killed. He believed in eliminating all potential competitors to his power.
Consumed by fear Herod lashed out creating an environment of retribution and fear.
It wasn’t only family. Rebellions and revolts were not unusual during the reign of Herod. His commitment to extinguish these revolts kept him in the good graces of Rome. Like other provincial rulers of the time opposition was met with violence and usually death. By modern standards, Herod was a monster.
Life was cheap when it came to maintaining the peace and the power.
Then Jesus, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, arrived. Herod recognized the threat. He murdered all boys under the age of 2 in the village of Bethlehem.
Jesus was born in this world or fear. Jesus lived in this world of fear. Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt to protect their son’s life.
When we apply the titles of Isaiah 9:6 to Jesus, ‘Prince of Peace’ isn’t just filling in space to provide cadence. Herod had every right to fear Jesus. Jesus was born to become king. Jesus was born not only to replace Herod, but to replace Herod’s environment of fear with and environment of peace. Significantly, in contrast to Herod, Jesus wasn’t ever proposing to maintain peace through violence. He maintains peace through peace.
Thirty-three years later, Herod the Great is long dead. Jesus himself is about to die. But while Herod’s final days were filled with increased paranoia, Jesus could approach death and promise his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
Fear isn’t dead.
Fear is real, and sometimes it’s healthy.
But fear is often a liar. And when fear festers it fosters hurt and turmoil.
I’m not suggesting that all Jesus followers just need to “think happy thoughts” to solve all our problems. I am suggesting that we need to take seriously Jesus’ mission to bring peace to the world, including to our world.
The apostle Paul explains it this way in Romans 8:14,
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
May the love and peace of Christ overcome your fears this Christmas and in the year ahead. May you find refuge in the arms of your Father and strength in His Spirit. May you find joy in your adoption as a child of God.
I sat across the table with one of my closest friends and mentors, lamenting to him, “Since when did discipleship become only about Bible study?” Later that day, I read this: “You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike; yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”* You’re good, God…
“Would you disciple this person?” I remember asking a mature Christian of a new Christian. “Sure, but I don’t have a lesson plan or a bunch of studies ready,” was the reply. It was a reasonable response, after all, as part of my schooling I was tasked to write a 12-month discipling study; it’s little wonder that many people don’t have that lying around…
“Let’s form a teaching schedule from real-life principles that our teens face, with every lesson geared towards reinforcing that one principle a quarter,” came the cry at the educational curriculum meeting. “But, how do we make sure we teach all of Scripture?” came the earnest, if expected, critique…
“What’d you think of the lesson?” I asked of someone visiting a class taught by one of my favorite in-house Bible teachers. “Fine,” she replied, “but he didn’t use very many verses…”
For 4 months the fly fishing rod produced no fish but much suffering, yet here in my hand it was again. I had only just learned the (still too thick) line and (way too big) bug to tie on, and so I cast with hope. With barely any knowledge of how or why it would, a hooked trout shook my rod for the first time, and a passion for the sport, nurtured in suffering, was born that continues today.
In a tradition that emphasizes Bible study as the goal of assembly, a contrast strikes me. Is there value in knowledge and study? Absolutely. But to what end? Often, this leads to assumptions that the more we know, the more God-like we are. Personal experience has taught me that’s vehemently false as a rule. This also assumes humans are mainly thinking beings, and that learning can and will change habits. This is how services and Bible classes are geared, and we lament when those raised to know everything from Scripture fall away. Except we don’t apply this logic to other disciplines such as exercise, or on-the-job training, or nutrition, or even fly-fishing.
Jesus didn’t ask Peter what he knew about Himself in John 21:15, Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Jesus didn’t say in John 14:15 that if you know more about Me you’ll keep My commands, but if you love Me. This isn’t a false dichotomy – what we love is what drives us, motivates us, and orients our life, far more than knowledge alone. We know this because we can know the benefits of exercise all we want, and never do it. We can know that cake is bad for us, and still eat it. And we can know about Jesus without ever truly loving Him.
What if discipleship was less about learning about Jesus, and more about loving Jesus more? What if church services were less about information and more about transformation? What if our goal was less about making sure the whole Bible is covered and more about covering our whole selves with the love of God seen in Jesus? What if our goal was less a habit of church attendance and more about attending the habits of the church that lead us to be more, or less, like Jesus? What if we spent less time learning about being a Christian, and more time living like Jesus?
Bible study is essential, no doubt. Should the whole Bible be taught and preached? Absolutely. But knowledge alone isn’t the thing which will keep Christians faithful. Simply knowing about your spouse isn’t what keeps you married. Love: what you love, whom you love, and why you love, is what God is after – that you desire Him above all else, and orient your life to keep Him oriented as your goal. We’re not to know as Christ knew, are to love as Christ loved.
Four months of habitual fishless fly-fishing that finally produced one fish lead to a passion, one that then produced a love to learn more, fish more, and do what was needed to transform into a better fly-fisher. If a tiny little trout could produce that much life-change in the hobbies of a man, where could truly discipling, not just teaching, someone to where they catch the smallest glimmer of true Christ-likeness in themselves lead? Perhaps, just perhaps, it could lead to truly becoming what we love. In one case, an able fly-fisher. I’ll take Christ over a trout every day.
Thomas Pruett is a disciple of Jesus, a husband to Amy, a father of four Ms, who prefers to be outside when possible and with coffee when indoors. He currently serves the Northern Hills Church of Christ in western South Dakota and will transition to serve the Circle Church of Christ in Corvallis, Oregon starting in February 2019. He rambles usually every week at www.northernhillscofc.org/blog.
A long time ago, our friend Augustine talked about disordered loves. His contention was things tend to be good in and of themselves but the way we often use those good things is problematic. God created these things, after all – and he called them very good – but these good things were created within an order and with purpose. God’s good creation was meant to work a certain way. So our problem, Augustine says, is that we get our loves out of order. We neglect some things while trying to use other things to do more than they were ever meant to do.
I think there’s a lot of truth to what Augustine is laying on us here. I think about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-21. He bookends this teaching with dual warnings about being careful where we look for our treasures and rewards. Don’t give or pray or fast to impress people. (This was a culture, after all, where giving, praying, and fasting carried major social capital.) If that’s where we’re placing our worth and identity we’ll get our reward, but be careful: those neighbors we’ve worked so hard to impress with our shows of generosity, pious prayers, and righteous displays of fasting simply cannot bear the weight our bid for approval, worth, and meaning places on them. Investing ourselves in such storehouses inevitably leads to loss because, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal.”
Augustine reminds us it’s not that our neighbors are bad – or even that we should avoid their approval. Rather, when we make the approval and validation of our neighbors the locus of our worth and identity, the place where we store our treasures, we’ve gotten things out of order. We look for something from our neighbors they cannot possibly deliver in any meaningful way. Only God can. It is only in rooting who we are in God’s estimation of us that we can hope to find lasting worth and meaning and identity. This is “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus ends by reminding us our hearts will follow our treasures. Another way of saying that is this: You will spend your life chasing the treasure you seek. More, other friends as diverse as Aristotle, Aquinas, and James KA Smith remind us that it is in this chase that we become who we are. The chase forms us, for good or ill.
What am I seeking? That’s the question we’ve been assigned to ponder and I spend a lot of time doing that. I too often recognize the ways I chase the wrong sorts of treasure – when I place too much stock in whether or not my friends and neighbors think I’m funny or smart or successful or good. I’ve had to deal with all the ways I’ve hitched my identity to being a vocational minister, and I’ve had to figure out what I’m worth now that I’m not that anymore. More, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that pursuing those treasures has often made me a more selfish person because it’s hard to both love and use my neighbors to satisfy my own neurotic needs. The only path forward I’ve discovered is to begin putting those loves back in order. This is, after all, the way Jesus showed us.
What do I seek? It has to be God. I stink at the pursuit. I struggle with it. I often get sidetracked and turned around. But, nothing else will do. Nothing else can.
Rob Sparks is a Jesus follower, a father and husband, a nerd, and a paper pusher. He worships and serves with the Fernvale Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee and occasionally blogs at robrsparks.wordpress.com
“Evangelism” can be a dirty word.
Consider this critique of Mother Teresa, “It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.” Yes, you read that correctly. The idea that a Christian might want to share their faith with others can completely undermine a lifetime devoted to improving the lot of some of the world’s most desperate people.
Despite critics who view evangelism, or proselytizing, as they call it, as a negative behaviour, it remains core to following Jesus. Whether we consider the imperative of the Great Commission, or the Lost Parables of Luke 15, we see God’s desire that people who don’t know Him come to know Him. He desires the lost to be saved. He longs for the sinner to be cleansed. He hopes for the distant to draw near to Him. And he uses Christians to accomplish His purposes.
When many people think of evangelism, we think of Mormon missionaries, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, constantly doorknocking neighborhoods and trying to have life changing conversations with us at the most inconvenient moments. Many Christians grew up in churches that regularly doorknocked and many still do.
But not all evangelism requires cold-calling on people and hoping we catch them at a time when we’re not a nuisance and they’re wanting to talk with someone.
If we’re not careful, sharing our faith can seem a lot like a sales job. It’s as though I need to convince you that out of all the life insurance products available on the market, my life insurance is the best one for you… and your family… and your friends. If I do it right, my sales will grow. The company will grow. My commissions will grow. And it really doesn’t matter whether or not I’m telling you the truth, as long as I can get you to believe my life insurance product is the best.
In contrast to this skepticism, Christians share our faith with others because we believe that the message of Jesus is one of life-changing goodness. Having experience God’s goodness, we want others to experience it also. Having seen light in a sea of darkness, we want to point others to that light also. We do this, not to increase our own equity, or to kingdom build, or spiritually colonise other cultures, but because we love others. Because we love other people we want them to experience the best life possible: to experience Jesus.
This week’s sermon looked briefly at two different approaches to making a God difference in people’s lives.
The Apostle Peter
Based on Acts 9:32 it seems that Peter had taken on the task of visiting groups of believers, churches, scattered around Judea and possibly Samaria. No doubt his goal was to encourage these charter members of the Jesus community. In this way Peter contributed to the growth of the church. He participated in implementing Jesus design from Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Peter had moved from Step 1: Jerusalem, and was now implementing Step 2: Judea and Samaria. In our text Peter finds himself on the coastal plain, and area not given a lot of attention throughout the Gospels. In Acts 10 Peter initiates the final step in Jesus outline: the ends of the earth, as he breaks through the Jew-Gentile barrier by baptizing a Roman.
Peter fits the mold of a typical evangelist. He’s a traveling preacher and as an apostle is able to perform healing miracles that attract a crowd. When he visits a town he preaches about Jesus and we’re told in Acts 9:35 “All those who lived [there] saw [the lame man walking] and turned to the Lord.”
As a preacher who can’t perform healing miracles, I believe there’s still a role for Peters in the work of the church. There’s a need for people to travel to unfamiliar places and tell others about the Good News of Jesus. These may be international missionaries, or domestic church planters, but they’re needed. The lost need to be saved, and the saved need to be taught and encouraged. Peters can do this.
The text next introduces us to Tabitha. She is apparently a woman of means who uses her wealth to “do good and help the poor“, particularly widows. Tabitha didn’t travel. She wasn’t prominent on the speaker circuit. Tabitha achieved influence in her community through her compassion and generosity.
Tabitha was loved so much that when she died, the church sent for the apostle Peter in the hope that he could restore her to life, which he did. After she sat up, “Peter called for the believers, especially the widows…” It’s impossible to know for certain, but I like to think that Tabitha was indiscriminate in selecting the widows and other poor citizens whom she cared for. Then, as she loved her neighbours, the neighbours saw Jesus, came to love him, and became disciples of Jesus. These women may have started out as widows, but because of Tabitha’s generosity they became believers.
Sometimes people dismiss the idea of entering full-time ministry by saying “that’s not for everyone”. And they’re right. But it is for some people. The church still needs Peters. And the 12 year old Peters sitting in churches around the world need others to encourage them. They need spiritual mentors to recognise their faith and gifts and inspire them to use those gifts in God’s service, full-time.
Sometimes when people dismiss the idea of full-time ministry, they say “everyone’s a minister”. And they’re right. The church needs more Tabithas. Sadly, many of those who say this, do very little. Perhaps its because while they recognise that we’re all called to serve we don’t always have clear models of what ministry from the pew looks like. The preachers have taken too much of the limelight. Tabitha provides a model we can all follow. Do good and help the poor. Who knows, you may even bring them to Jesus.
This blog post is based on a sermon that you can listen to HERE.
The Gospels tell two stories of private interactions between Jesus and his disciples that provide a glimpse into the ambitions of Jesus’ closest disciples.
- The Twelve argue among themselves over who is the greatest. (Mark 9:34)
- James and John request the seats either side of Jesus’ throne in his kingdom. (Mark 10:35-37)
In most discussions of these texts that I’ve heard, people generally criticise the disciples for using Jesus to obtain personal gain. This seems valid criticism. The disciples’ motives seem selfish and unholy.
When we arrive at this conclusion, it appears that we now understand the text as a warning against pride and selfishness and we can move on to the next passage. However, I believe that we can glean more from this text before moving on.
We could easily observe the disciples’ behaviour and conclude that the desire to succeed or achieve as a Jesus follower is an improper desire. Instead, we should endeavour to make our goals and ambitions consistent with God’s will.
Greatness is a worthy goal. How we define greatness is vital. Jesus provides a definition in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last,and servant of all.” Importantly, Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t aspire to greatness.” Rather he describes a holy path to greatness.
James and John made the mistake of seeking something that wasn’t theirs to seek, or even Jesus’ to give. I wonder, if they had asked Jesus to give them the ministry of primary apostolic healers if Jesus wouldn’t have honoured that request.
So how about us?
The idea of spiritual ambitions seems dangerous to most Christians I know. Yes, Paul tells Timothy to identify men that desire the role of shepherd in the church. But if someone starts wanting that role too much, we get nervous. This creates the problem of discerning the difference between ‘ambition’ and ‘excessive ambition’. So more often than not we frown upon ambition as pride and therefore an ungodly attitude.
Fear of ambitious Christians results in churches filled with people who have few goals and dreams for where their faith could take them. Without goals how can a person determine the next step in their faith walk?
This is a long introduction to what I hope will prove to be a helpful list of concrete ambitions Christians can choose. While I recognise the danger of trying to put the Holy Spirit in a box or define his job, I also realise that I don’t function well in the abstract. Simply telling me to, “walk by faith” doesn’t help me very much, I need more definite instructions. So, here are some ideas, and I’d love for you to add some of yours in the comments section below!
Possible Goals for Spiritual Growth
- Read the Bible all the way through.
- Lead a ministry at church.
- Start an NPO to make a difference in the lives of your community.
- Become a small group leader.
- Go on a 24hr silent retreat.
- Baptize someone.
- Go on a mission trip.
- Teach a children’s Bible class
- Increase your giving. (Aim at a specific percentage.)
- Memorize Scripture.
- Read the Bible daily. (Find all sorts of reading plans HERE.)
- Attend a Bible or ministry conference/workshop.
- Raise a godly family.
- Host a small group in your home.
- Take Bible courses from a college. (So many are offered online now.)
- Intentionally encourage someone every day. (Be able to name that person at the end of the day.)
- Make a friend of someone from a different faith background.
- Strive to live in such a way that others will describe you as generous.
- Reach a point where you can honestly say that you love your enemies. In the meantime, pray good things for them and their families.
- Spiritually mentor someone.
- Tell a nonbeliever why you’re a Christian.
- Regularly practice fasting.
- Visit the Holy Land.
- Create a work of art (painting, sculpting, song, poem, whatever) that explores an aspect of your faith.
- Share a meal with all your neighbors (one at a time).
- Identify an organization you can volunteer at regularly.
- Lead a ministry at your church.
- Become a foreign missionary.
- Regularly read the Bible and have spiritual conversations with your grand/children.
- Cook a meal for someone else each month/week. Maybe they eat it with you. Maybe you just deliver it.
- Pray with another person (not always the same person) each week.
- Give money to a mission work, or new church plant in the U.S..
- Make a new friend with someone from a different ethnic background.
- Adopt a college student.
- Read a religious book other than the Bible each year/6 months.
- Become a full-time minister.
- Commit to being an ethical voice in your workplace.
- Raise money for worthy causes.
- Attend every church work day.
- Prioritise Sunday worship with the body of Christ.
- Intentionally express gratitude to someone every day.
- Love your spouse, so that they know it.
Most of these goals take more than a moment to fulfill. They’re something to work towards, to aspire to complete. Because spiritual growth is a process.
I dream of the day when I might ask each member of my congregation, “Which aspect of your walk with God are you working on at the moment?” and they’d have a response that was ambitious rather than guilt-ridden.
This list results from random brainstorming rather than profound meditation. I hope it provides a spark for you set some spiritual goals that you might pursue spiritual greatness by becoming the servant of all.
This is the 4th post on the 2018 Blog Tour. I first ran into Jonathan many moons ago when we were both involved in campus ministry. Now we both preach for churches in neighboring states. I hope you find his thoughts encouraging, and take a few moments to visit his blog.
As soon as I heard the theme for this year’s blog tour, my mind immediately went to a short passage in Matthew 6. I love this passage. First, I like it because the ancient conceptualization of the human eye as a “lamp” is intriguing to me. Second, the passage is really about the notion of focus and the idea that what you seek is ultimately what you find. So, let me share the passage with you, taking into consideration the overview provided by Matt in his post pertaining to the Sermon on the Mount.
6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
So, let’s have some fun! It only seems right to share some pictures with you and ask what it is that you see in the picture?
Here is the first one…
And the second…
And one more…
Now, to the passage. The eye was seen as the body’s lamp because just like lighting a lamp allowed you to see the room in the dark, so to opening the eye allowed you to see the world. So, if you had a healthy eye, you could see pretty well. However, if you have a “bad” eye, that is an eye that is unhealthy, then you can’t see very well. Blindness was a condition in which the eye couldn’t be “switched on” and so the body could not move about in the light…but stumbled around in the darkness.
In context, sandwiched between the warning not to store up materialistic treasures where moth and rust destroy, and thieves steal; and the reality check that a servant cannot serve two masters at the same time—our eye as the lamp passage serves to tell us that the ability to see and to focus on what is right in the sight of God is extremely important.
In the pictures above, there isn’t a right answer! Congrats! You saw a duck or a rabbit in the first picture based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on. In the second picture, you either saw a young woman or an elderly woman again based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on. In the third picture, you either saw a vase or two side profiles looking at each other depending on your eyes’ focus. It is a fun experiment to do, and perhaps you saw both options in each picture. (Or you can go back and try to see the other option)
When it comes to the eyes of faith that Jesus asks us to develop in his Sermon on the Mount, the aspects of life you focus on really do matter. Jesus asks us to focus on people and relationships instead of stuff and possessions…heavenly treasure that makes us rich in the ways of God. Jesus continues that we cannot serve money and God. Our eyes must be healthy, they must be focused, and they are a gateway to our, “shining before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
So, what are you seeking?
- If you were to evaluate what your eyes tend to watch, what would it be? Another way to say it, what catches your eye?
- Would you say that you have “blind-spots?” What are persons and things that you might fail to see?
- When people use you as a “lamp” to light up the darkness…what do they see from your good works?
- How healthy are our eyes of faith?
Your eyes may just reveal it all!
Jonathan Woodall is the minister for the GracePointe church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA and blogs on the church website www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org and on his personal page at www.jonathanfwoodall.com. He is the spouse of Hayley and they have two children–Brynn and Aidric. Jonathan has also served as a worship minister, campus minister, and adjunct instructor of communication.
God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29
In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.
“Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today.
“This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings. Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation. This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.“
Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.
…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11
Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes’ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere. If that’s true, why is this?
Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something. Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?
“I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.”
― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What
God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. –Hebrews 11:6
For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10
If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely?
How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit? I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics.
Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free.
Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us?
What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve.
Have I been quiet? No TV, no small screens, just me and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.)
Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside?
Contemporary Christian music group, Building 429, sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.
God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.
John Dobbs is the preaching minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ (http://facoc.org) in Monroe, Louisiana. He can be found on Facebook, followed on Twitter (@johndobbs) and read on his blog (http://johndobbs.com). He’s been married for 31 years to the lovely Maggy. He has two children and two grandchildren.
I’m glad to share the first guest post on our 2018 Blog Tour. Matthew challenges us to examine our hearts, our motives and our priorities. While the Sermon on the Mount is not a checklist, it does encourage us to examine our hearts. HERE is one guide to an introspective self-examination based upon Jesus’s words in Matthew 5-7. ~ Peter
“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.
Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:
– Attitudes (5:1-12)
– Actions/Witness (v13-16)
– Righteousness (v.17-20)
– Conflict (v. 21-26)
– Marriage and Adultery (v. 27-30)
– Divorce (v.31-32)
– Honesty (v.33-37)
– Revenge (v.38-48)
– Giving (6:1-4)
– Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15)
– Fasting (v.19-24)
– Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34).
That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.
Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”
How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?
It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).
“You are what you love.”
What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.
Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – http://www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.
Over the last few years I’ve participated in what I call a “Blog Tour”. I invite several other bloggers and guest writers to write articles on a common theme. This year, the theme is “What Are You Seeking?” I always enjoy discovering the different directions the various writers take this topic. I find the process enriching as they raise issues and thoughts that would never occur to me within the bubble that I live. I pray that you find these posts in the coming weeks encouraging to you also.
This week I kick off the Tour with my contribution. As each writer contributes their thoughts in coming weeks I hope you will take a moment to visit their blog and encourage them. You may even find a new habit that you enjoy reading regularly.
Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshipers.
- There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends by there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
- Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first time guests will attend this week.
At first glance I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalisations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.
We were seekers seeking.
Some of us knew what we seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.
Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.
Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:
“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Who were you seeking?
Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”
He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”
Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.
This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.
- Do we participate in his kingdom out of obligation or passion?
- Does our status as adopted children of God seem real to us, or a theoretical concept?
- Do we worship to please others, or because we love God?
- Do we desire to participate in expanding the borders of God’s kingdom, or do we like our church the way it is?
- Do we long to grow our relationship with God, or are we comfortable with our current level of knowledge and commitment?
What are you seeking? Really?
Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?
- Jesus, will my relationship with God be restored if I follow you?
- Jesus, will my relationship with my husband be restored if I follow you?
- Jesus, will my family finally accept me if I follow you?
- Jesus, how much (or little) money do I need to give you to make you happy?
- Jesus, will I still get to do the things I really enjoy doing?
- Jesus, can I keep my friends?
- Jesus, can you tell me about eternity before I commit?
- Jesus, how much time will I need to give you each week?
Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.
The account of Elijah’s final days found in 2 Kings 1 -2 tells a story with echoes to other characters and themes of Scripture. This blog post will differ from my usual style as I explore some of these “echoes”.
ELIJAH = John the Baptizer
Malachi 4:5 predicts that “[God] will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes“.
Jesus himself in Matthew 11:14 says of John, “If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”
Like John, Elijah spent a lot of time as a lone voice in the wilderness. Even the description of Elijah sounds a lot like John:
- He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Kings 1:8)
- John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matt 3:4)
Elijah’s primary ministry was challenging the ungodliness of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. John ultimately died for challenging the ungodliness of King Herod and his wife.
ELISHA = Jesus
Unlike Elijah, Elisha spends a lot of time mentoring a large group referred to as “the sons of the prophets”.
Miracles were a mainstay of Elisha’s ministry. In 2 Kings 4, Elisha multiplies food and brings a dead boy back to life. In chapter 5 he heals Naaman of leprosy and in chapter 6 causes an axehead to float on water. Even in death Elisha’s grave gave new life to dead man. (2 Kings 13:20-21)
While John had some disciples, Jesus had his famous group of 12 disciples and his less well know group of 70. He didn’t locate his ministry in the wilderness. He went to the people.
Jesus’ ministry was also characterised by miracles. In Matthew 14 after the death of John the Baptizer Jesus multiplies food to feed 5,000, then walks on water. In chapter 9 he raises a dead girl back to life, heals blind and mute men, and casts out demons. Jesus’ empty tomb promises life top all humanity.
ELIJAH = Jesus & ELISHA = Disciples
- Elijah calls Elisha to leave his oxen and come follow him. (1 Kings 1:19-21) Jesus calls his disciples to leave their fishing nets and come follow him (Matt 4:18-22).
- Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. (2 Kings 2:9) Jesus promised his disciples the presence of the Holy Spirit after his death. (Matt 14:15-19)
- Elijah was taken up to the heavens while Elisha watched. (2 Kings 2:11) Jesus was also “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:9)
- The sons of the prophets could recognise that “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” (2 Kings 2:15) Likewise, when Peter and John were hauled before the court, the religious leaders “saw their courage… and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
- Receiving Elijah’s spirit meant that Elisha would continue his ministry. The church as the body of Christ continues the ministry of Christ even to this day.
ELIJAH = Moses
Elijah’s consistent opposition to King Ahab mirrors Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh. When Pharoah was defeated and his son died, Moses left Egypt passing through the Red Sea on dry land.
2 Kings 1 opens with the death of Ahab and his son Ahaziah. With Ahaziah dead Elijah leaves the land crossing the Jordan River on dry land. This was a triumphal kind of “exodus moment” for Elijah.
Both Moses and Elijah’s lives end on the eastern bank of the Jordan River leaving their replacements to complete the mission.
ELISHA = Joshua
Joshua entered Canaan to claim it for God by crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. Elisha also commences his ministry to reclaim the soul of Israel for Yahweh by crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. (2 Kings 2:14)
Joshua’s first stop in Canaan was to destroy and curse Jericho so it could never be rebuilt. (Joshua 6:26) Elisha also headed straight to Jericho only this time God used him to heal the land and provide pure water to the city. (2 Kings 2:19-21)
Joshua’s next conflict was with the city Ai. A close reading shows that the battle took place between the cities of Ai and Bethel. Bethel’s men fought with Ai to resist Joshua. (Joshua 8:9-17) Elisha’s next stop was also Bethel where young men opposed him and challenged his role as God’s prophet. God was again victorious. (2 Kings 23-24)
In light of all these comparisons, the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus at his transfiguration make more sense. Not only are Moses and Elijah great men of God, but their lives tell similar stories that came to fulfillment in Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-13)