Category Archives: 22. Following And Being Led

Following and Being Led (Saturday) – Mark 8:31-38

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  (Mark 8:31-32)

Why did Peter feel he must privately rebuke God Incarnate? Because he spoke plainly about suffering and rejection. Peter was only conveying what everyone else was thinking; “We are not interested in suffering – Yours or ours. This kind of talk could get somebody hurt!” This idea is so wrong headed, Jesus publicly rebukes Peter;

But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s. (Mark 8:33) 

This idea is so toxic, Jesus addresses it immediately trying to neutralize it before it spreads any further;

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:34-37)

If the prevailing crowd-drawing gospel fails to mention that we must take up our cross daily and follow Him, I believe it is a false gospel that says, “You may keep your life. In fact Jesus came to enhance it. Be at ease. There is no cross for you.” Where this false-gospel is prevalent we are demonstrating our shame in Jesus’ words and that is a serious error.

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

We may have not said it directly to Jesus but we might as well have. After He plainly made his point, the western church at large has more or less taken Jesus aside and rebuked him, saying; “Lord are you not mad in telling us that we must die in order to live? No one is going to follow you if you talk like that!”

Men have not changed, only the cultural-specifics of our sinful generation are unique. Men despised suffering then and they despise it now. Suffering is an intruder on the good life. It is the burster of bubbles. It is the nagging reminder of our frail and temporal circumstances. Men will do almost anything to avoid the mystery of suffering. Suffering is not easily digested by anyone’s theology.

Men were slaves to lies when Jesus first spoke these words; we are slaves to lies now. Jesus came to liberate us from these lies, but who will identify them? Most pastors know where Peter was coming from. They know men are not interested in suffering. They know that kind of talk could get somebody fired!”

Father, you came to liberate captives. Set us free from the lies we have swallowed in our culture that would insulate us from our crosses. Liberate us for Your name’s sake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following and Being Led (Sunday) – Mark 1:14-20

It’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem. (Luke 13:33)

There is no need to fear. Nothing improper is going to happen to John the Baptist. This great prophet and herald has offended both religious and civil authorities and is going to pay with his head. And, just as John has announced, Jesus has come. He also will offend both civil and religious authorities. He too will pay with his life. It seems those in control prefer to stay that way.

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

The kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is at hand? Repent? Repent of what? Believe? Believe in what? I believe these were all reasonable questions. I suspect every one who saw John and Jesus pointing at this so-called kingdom were baffled as to what these Seers claimed to be seeing. For those who already believed in the God of Israel, what could they do in response to this message except to resolve to be better Jews and hope more fervently that Israel would prevail against her enemies? With the information available, the only external application they had was to do what they already knew to do, except with greater commitment.

Are we that different? What have we done with the kingdom of God? We have certainly not treated it as if it were at hand or among us. Most evangelicals have translated kingdom of God into heaven and pushed it out beyond them to a dispensation made possible when the world, the flesh and the devil have been removed from the equation. What is left to man inside this vision? Church attendance? Church involvement? Missions? Holiness? How about a greater commitment to church attendance, involvement, missions or holiness? What about repentance of all notions comprised of doubling down on the status quo?

As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him. (Mark 1:16-20)

As a fisherman, I am always asking myself, what bait should I cast? The Wiggle Wort? The Bayou Boogie? Most often, for me its the Texas-rigged 7 1/2″ Silver Shad Culprit rubber worm.   I’m a bit religious about this. I am also an apostate to the FPFC (Floyd’s Pond Fisherman’s Code) – the established understandings of tube fishermen in Northwest Oklahoma (which shuns rubber worms). There…I have confessed and am I am willing to accept my lashes. (But you should have seen the bass I caught yesterday on a rubber worm!) How easily I digress.

As a fisherman, I am stunned how quickly God hooked Simon and Andrew, and James and John. What was the bait God cast to these men? Whether you are fishing for bass or men, the key is always authenticity. The four original disciples followed Jesus because He was authentic. Like the bass, the disciples did not understand why they bit on His proposal to leave everything and follow Him. They just knew there was nothing artificial about Jesus. They knew in their gut that Jesus was the real deal.

Oh yes, I forgot the hallowed Pop-R! It is my beloved all-time favorite top water lure. It can just be minding it own business, making it’s intermittent splashes with my assistance (looking every bit like a floating t-bone steak to a bass) and just get slaughtered from below. I think Jesus would have liked to see us respond like this to Him and His kingdom invitation. But we too prefer to stay in control. If we take that bait, we are going to be drug around and led to places we do not want to go. We know that we will thrash about and then we will die. And…we will be correct, but short sighted.

When God landed the original four disciples with Jesus (His only lure) He reeled them in and they did die, but in return He gave them Life. In fact He was the meal they had always craved. He was the Bread of Life. They had to die to the idea that the Kingdom of God was an earthly kingdom. They had to die to their preconceived notions about everything! Especially, they had to die to the idea that they were in control of their lives. There was definitely some thrashing about as they felt those kingdom hooks penetrating their leather-hardened suppositions about reality. There was plenty of resistance as they realized Jesus was overthrowing their kingdoms so that He might build His. Yet in return, they received the Life of God. They surrendered control of their hearts to Jesus. They lost everything and gained eternity.

Father, I pray that we might repent of our westernized good news – where we remain in control. May we repent of this error and embrace the actual good news – where you gain control. I pray that we might exchange our truncated-gospel for the full-gospel which includes our crosses. Even if we offend civil or religious authorities; even if we ourselves are offended, may we loose control of our lives that we might discover You as our Life as well as Your never-ending kingdom. Raise up your prophets Lord who see Your kingdom – who carry this vision – who know and can convey that Your kingdom is at hand. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following and Being Led (Friday) – Luke 14:25-34

Now large crowds were going along with Him (from Luke 14:25)

I believe the reason Jesus addressed this crowd as he did was because he loved them and he knew they were following him for the wrong reasons. He had to shake them loose of their wrong motives so that he might begin saving them. He knew what was in their hearts would not get them across the finish line.

Just seeing Jesus as a prophet or even as the long awaited King of the Jews was not going to cut it. Even if they were embracing him as their long awaited Savior, what did they think he was saving them from? Rome? Being caught up in the zeal of Judaism or Israeli-nationalism was not going to help this crowd. Even their aspiration of seeing more miracles or being healed themselves was of no eternal value. Moth and rust were coming for all their dreams. In his ever-wise, all-powerful love, the Lord of Hosts had to explode the ideas driving this crowd. He armed his next missile with a nuclear warhead.

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

I would not have been surprised if the next verse had read…

“After saying these things, crowds were no longer a problem because no-one had ears to hear these words.” (Rob’s Imagined Translation)

When the concussion struck, people were reeling; “Hate my parents, who I have been commanded to honor!?” “Hate my children who are gifts from God?!” “Hate my own life which was intricately formed in secret by the very hands of God? “Hate?!” “Didn’t Jesus say we were to love even our enemies?” As hearts were scrambling for any kind of solid ground, Jesus added;

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

I would like to hear the television super stars expound on this passage. With their million dollar smiles, I would especially like to hear them tell their crowds how this particular bomb has contributed to their prosperous lives. I have the tiniest suspicion that Luke 14:25-34 is intentionally avoided because it would effect crowds which ultimately effects revenues. And we have been conditioned to understand: No revenues = no ministry. Yes, I am a tiny bit jaded.

What Jesus was building would require significant demolition before actual construction could begin. His aim was to obliterate anything that would get in the way of his project which had dimensions far beyond what they could fathom.

Crowds do not directly equate to God’s family (the original point). With this crowd, Jesus was doing the advance work of preparing their collective heart to become the new Holy of Holies – God”s residence on earth. God’s project included each of them becoming living stones, and priests and kings. He was preparing them to be grafted into the Vine – who is Christ. The Spirit of God was going to take up residence in them as they embraced his son for who he actually was (not at all who they dreamed him to be). Jesus was nothing less than the very Life of God. 

Whether they are in auditoriums, on line or in their living rooms, crowds gather to hear things that match their hopes and dreams. They gather to hear words that will help them improve and extend their lives on earth. To save them from this dead-end venture, Jesus must first destroy their ideas. He continues…

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:28-33)

God knows we are entangled with the world and he knows that death will be the consequence of this. In Christ, through us, God is waging war against death. He knows that we must first understand the true gospel – the one that is free yet will cost us everything. As alien as it may be to our ears, there has never been any other way to follow Jesus than to cede the title-deed of one’s life back to the Him – the Giver of that life. Our surrender is the beginning of our disentanglement. Those being disentangled have relevance on earth.

“Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke14:34-35)

The hope-filled verse that shapes my prayer will be Hebrews 6:9;

But, beloved, even though we speak to you in this way, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and of things that accompany salvation. (AMP)

Father, while we may not have eyes to see the shape and dimensions of what You are building, most of us know, in our gut, that what we are building is in vain. May you demolish and build to Your heart’s content in Your Body as it yet resides on earth. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following and Being Led (Thursday)—Matthew 14:25-34

Our passage today is the account of Jesus walking on the water. So, our practical application is…? Well, in this case, even though we were told we would be, we are not quite yet (in all ways) in the world as Jesus was (1 John 4:17). Although, there may be hope. I did hear of a young zealot enrolled in a school of the supernatural who has been practicing. I don’t know if this was for extra credit or if it was just part of a challenging curriculum.

As we know, our passage goes on to describe the disciple’s and especially Peter’s response to Jesus as he approached their boat, which “was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. However, rather than focusing on this type of the miraculous, which we have little-to-no influence over, I would like to talk about what preceded the drama at sea, which we do have control over.

 Then He directed the disciples to get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent away the crowds. And after He had dismissed the multitudes, He went up into the hills by Himself to pray. When it was evening, He was still there alone. Matthew 14:22-23

It is Jesus’ intentionality I would like to explore. But I hesitate. Dare we even allude to discipline as a part of our walk with Jesus? Will we not defile grace the moment we exercise intentionality? I know of another devout man whose intentionality consists of intentionally doing nothing except what pleases him. God in His sovereignty is so thoroughly ruling, what is in his heart must have been decreed. Wow! I believe both of these responses to Jesus’ call are missing the boat. Let’s dare to explore the heart of God in Christ as he walked on earth.

After he miraculously fed the 5,000, Jesus had an appointment. But things needed to be done first. The preliminaries involved separating himself from the people. First, the disciples: “He directed the disciples to get into the boat and go. Next, the crowds: “He sent the crowds away. The same Jesus who said, “suffer not the little children,” was now deliberately shooing people away. Talk about intentional! His motives become clear though:

 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.

Popular preaching has had Jesus dragging his exhausted ministry-depleted self up the mountain so he could get his batteries recharged (by praying) so he could get back to the business of saving the world ASAP. I don’t think so. I don’t see missions-minded Jesus reasoning, “I must pray. Souls are cascading into Hell until my batteries are recharged.” No. I see a love-driven soul simply responding to his heart’s longings to be with his Father, alone. Recall (before, in the beginning), Jesus spent considerable time alone with the Father and probably still thinks of that intimate arrangement as normal. You could call this a trysting place: a place where two people enjoy the intimacy of their relationship in some reserved place; a place where a rendezvous has been intentionally planned and is jointly anticipated. Upon reaching the summit, I envision Jesus taking a big deep breath and simply saying, “Oh how I love you Father!” I am sure that Father replied, “I love you too Son. You are the absolute joy of my heart.”

Here in the middle of mysteries-a-plenty, between men fearful of miracle-less lives and those fearful of initiatives that might trample upon grace, I envision the fundamental act of our intentionality playing out similarly to the scene where Jesus is alone on the mountain with his Father. Being with the One you love is the essence, as best I can tell, of having a personal relationship with someone. Being alone with God is not some kind of deeper Christian life; its an expression of a normal relationship with God. Without this dynamic in play, I’m not sure what we have as Christians. Traditions? Creeds? Convictions?

Our union with God is no less miraculous than walking on water. The things below the feet of fallen man are just as threatening as those lurking beneath Jesus and Peter. Jesus has rescued us every bit as much as he rescued Peter. And he continues to do so as we reach up to him. Hearing Jesus call to us and responding is well represented by our intentionality in establishing our trysting places with the Lord – places where we meet with Him privately, discovering and stewarding the intimacy which is reserved for us.

 Many have acknowledged the merits of this idea. Few follow through so that it becomes a lifestyle—an engrained habit, an anticipated joy. I do not see a great deal of hope for our world without men, women, and children pioneering and inhabiting this place of personal intimacy with God. Without it, all we have is a sterile, lifeless parody of relationship, one I fear that has left western culture with an uninspired view of Christianity.

I am not without hope though. No man comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Isn’t Father still drawing men to himself? Perhaps this is Father’s next move on the earth. Perhaps a new wave of intimacy is about to be discovered where love displaces obligation as our heart-motive.

To be sure, at this time, our boat is a long distance from the land, battered by the waves with very contrary winds. However, I know something about Father. Without fail, he rescues those who cry out to him. I also know that he is present, standing ready to meet with anyone who will get rid of the noise around them. Without fail, those who do eventually make the discovery that he has been there all along.

I believe the fundamental prayer (or conversation) of authentic Christianity sounds like this: “Oh how I love you Father!” And Father replies, “I love you too, child. You are the chief joy of my heart.” I could see a day when the onlookers (and by the way, we are being watched) say, “You certainly are God’s children!” If an old man is permitted to dream his dreams, this shall be mine.

Father, help us to discern the weather. Help us to understand our times. Give us courage to step out of our routines, which so often discount your presence. Even though it is frightening to step out onto the unfamiliar, let us find that in you we are buoyant, that we can indeed walk with you who have overcome this world in all its wickedness as well as its busyness. Help us to discover that for us, who are in Christ and have Christ in us, we can be deliberate, knowing that you are able to rescue us whenever our dependencies become misplaced. Draw all men unto you and on, to that place where we privately and regularly celebrate our miraculous union. Let this be Father. I love you, too.

P.S. The reason I distributed so many Blue Books is that they are one of Father’s best invitations to Relationship With God 101. The Blue Book introduces you to the hearts of others who have been drawn out of the boat to walk with Jesus in greater intimacy. I have found it provides a loose approach (not a formula) to fashion this time to suit both us and the Lord who draws us.

 

 

Following and Being Led (Monday)—John 1:35-41

Following and Being Led —John 1:35-41

 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

How do men find God? In our passage a network of people pick up on news spread by a couple of John the Baptist’s former followers: “We have found the Messiah.” Before long Jesus’s ministry has grown to five. But had these men found God? The scriptures tell us that whatever men think, in reality, God finds them:

 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. (John 6:44)

There is an invisible and powerful backstory to each of our relationships with God. Theologians call it prevenient grace: a divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. It means that whenever I am moving toward God by choice, I am actually responding to the One drawing me. It means the thoughts and circumstances preceding my choice were His wooing.

This is one of those realities that makes our prayers and songs begging God to draw near quite absurd. We might feel lonely or feel abandoned, but perhaps we shouldn’t respond by pleading with God for something He has already accomplished. Perhaps we should take a reality inventory and, by faith, discount our feelings and align our thinking with what actually is. God has never left us. In fact, even in the troubling and disorienting moments He is fully present just as He was yesterday and will be forevermore.

Once upon a time, I worked very hard to maneuver others so I could look at them eye to eye, tell them the gospel, and pop the question, “Would you like to invite Jesus Christ into your heart?” Looking back on those days as a fisherman, it was as if you could stick anything on the hook and the fish would bite—even on a shallow presentation of the Gospel. I was one of those fish. Did the fish quit biting, or did I just quit fishing? Regardless, God is still casting for men.

I’m still fishing, too, but my bait is much different. It’s no longer a patented presentation, though that lure is still in my tackle box. I haven’t touched it for years now. My lure of choice these days is Jesus Himself. In the mysterious dynamic of men moving toward God, in which our will is somehow involved yet subordinate to God’s drawing, I believe the best lure today is something very much like what I see in this passage: “Ok, you want to find God? Excellent. Come and see Him.”

Where I perceive God is drawing a person, I simply pass along Jesus’ invitation, “Come and you will see.” If you follow this lure with an honest heart, far at all, what you’ll see is that you’re being drawn. I am not too big on trying to snag fish with patented gospel presentations these days. I want people to taste the bait for themselves and see that He is good. They need to come and personally discover that, out of a crazy powerful love, God is present and intimately involved in all the affairs of our lives. In our taking the bait, we need to surrender to this love. As he holds us in the powerful currents of his grace, we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus.

The Blue Book is one of the best invitations I have come across, and I believe it is one of God’s favorite lures. It’s been extremely successful in drawing men to Him in the waters I fish.

All glory, power, and honor be unto Him, forevermore. Amen.

 

Following and Being Led (Wednesday)—Luke 18:18-30

For an American aspiring to enter eternal life, whose nation’s bottom 5% lives better than 70% of the rest of the world, the most troubling word he might ever hear was the answer Jesus gave to a rich man’s question: “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ bombshell response:

 “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

For myself, as an American living in the upper part of an unprecedented historical bubble of prosperity, who aspires to eternal life, it might be tempting to become very sad (like the rich young ruler) for I too am extremely rich (along with a huge percentile of my fellow citizens).

If what Jesus spoke was intended for all men, I—and every American citizen who looks to Jesus for their salvation—is condemned on the grounds of having not given everything to the poor. This is a troubling thought, apparently so troubling to some they become monks to alleviate their trouble. By giving their belongings away, they are at least clear on that count. However, once settled in their hermitage, they must learn to pray at all times. So they attend various services throughout the day to remain clear on that count. And we know how their vows of celibacy clear them of lust. You probably see my point.

Even the most devout legalist is doomed. Religion will always set the bar such that righteousness, lofty as it is, still appears achievable. Religion then motivates men out of guilt to take fresh runs at various standards of righteousness, hoping they will clear the bar and live lives pleasing to God.

With the rich young ruler, I do not believe Jesus was trying to establish a standard of righteousness where heaven could be purchased by selling all one’s possessions and distributing the proceeds to the poor. No. This would make a sham of the grace by which we are saved. At the same time, I do believe Jesus’ words were a laser-guided bomb that had to be dropped into the rich young ruler’s heart. I believe that with His piercing words Jesus was trying to take out the stronghold of religion that had imprisoned this man in the idea that eternal kingdom life is attainable through good deeds.

I don’t mean to isolate legalistic monks as the sole prisoners of religion. No man is exempt from this struggle. Monks are just the more obvious, thus convenient, examples. Born again believers are quite capable of legalism. More than once I have been liberated from religious mindsets. On one occasion, I was taking a run at a bar with the anticipation I might actually clear it, when, on a dead run, the whole runway exploded beneath me. To say my face-plant was painful would be an understatement. Like the rich young ruler, I was profoundly shaken.

In retrospect, I’m persuaded that, out of His love for me, God dropped that bomb so that I could fully receive the gift. Eternal life is a gift. It cannot be purchased. If we in anyway think our labors earn his favor, his loving crosshairs are painted on our hearts. If we’re fortunate, the missile will find its mark and our religious delusions will be mercifully exploded.

Jesus, not being one to waste a good bomb, allowed others beside the rich man to be hit by its shrapnel. Stunned by the impact, they asked, “Then who can be saved?” As much as any words Jesus ever spoke, I am grateful for those he spoke next:

The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”

Whether we live in the top 5% or the bottom 5% of the economic demographic, without Christ, we live in profound spiritual poverty. And try as we may, in our fallen guilt, to appease a holy God through religious observances, we remain impossibly estranged from Him. Our salvation is made possible exclusively though a gift. That gift is purely and simply Jesus. There is no other way to receive what the rich young ruler hungered for other than receiving Jesus. Through a simple yet miraculous embrace of this reality, we are made sons and daughters of God. He has breathed upon us, and His life is once again ours.

The one thing the rich young ruler lacked was not that he was unwilling to sell all that he had. He also lacked the understanding of grace and the understanding that Jesus Himself was the eternal Bread of Life. I believe there is a chance the rich young ruler’s hunger eventually drew him to Jesus and let him see the bigger picture, one in which Christ was the fulfillment of the Law, and one who could dismantle every religious stronghold which opposes the grace gift of God. I believe that after the resurrection, with God’s bigger picture alive in his heart, he may have discovered that all things are in fact possible with God.

I hope that, in light of the great Love that was pursuing this rich man, he changed his mind and surrendered the title of his possessions to God. One day in eternity we’ll discover whether Jesus asked him to give it up after all or not. It would have been a potent testimony for this young man to have remained in the world and not of it by stewarding wealth while living free from its intoxicating and binding influence.

Father, continually lead the captives out of captivity, especially those hearts which have fallen back into laboring for your approval and blessing.

 

Following and Being Led (Tuesday)—Luke 5:27-31

Jesus had just filled Israel with fear and astonishment by healing a paralyzed man and forgiving his sins. As his nation was abuzz with awe, Jesus went about his business and “noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.”

“Luke! Is this all you wanted to say here? Did you not want to say a little something to explain why fish like Levi just jumped into the boat with Jesus? Or—did you want us to reconstruct this story for the information we might glean, as if reconstruction and gleaning were of some benefit, some benefit like manna for our souls? Ah yes. I think I get it. Thanks.”

Who was Levi? All we know so far is that he is a tax collector. And what do we know about tax collectors? Well, they are on the social pariah list right after undertakers—death being the only thing worse than paying taxes. To gain appreciation for Levi’s despised status, imagine that the United States had lost the war to the Axis Powers in World War II. Then imagine an American citizen who was in the employment of either Germany or Japan whose job it was to collect your taxes, if necessary with the tact and force of the brutal occupying army. Levi was a man without a country, loathed by his countryman beyond even their hatred for Rome. Even though he had committed the unpardonable sin of compromise, God did not see him as his nation did. God knew Levi was a lonely man who had to harden himself against the stones and slurs slung at him daily. Whatever Levi was, Jesus invited him into his inner circle. Beautiful!

We know that Levi was, at the very least, grateful and had a pent up desire to experience a party which Jesus’ unqualified acceptance apparently triggered: “And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. 

Maybe this was a regular scum-of-the-city dinner party, but I suspect it was a celebration of an unprecedented nature. Levi had discovered that the most righteous man who ever trod the streets of Jerusalem thought enough of him to befriend him. Levi naturally assumed that Jesus would feel the same toward the rest of the city’s scum so he opened his home to them as well.  However, those who were most highly ranked in their religious culture, the un-scum, were not pleased:

 The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” 

I don’t know if they were all standing around together, but Jesus preempts whatever his fledgling disciples might have answered:

 “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

What an honor it would have been to have been there celebrating with these outcasts; eating, drinking, and making merry with God incarnate as a living consternation to all the elder brothers who were standing outside the party thinking, “I’ve always done my chores, and No One ever killed a fattened calf for me and my friends.”

Religion does a horrific thing to man’s spirit—every bit as intoxicating as lust or greed. Truly, if we are to take the story of Levi seriously, religion is far worse because it alienates. The horrific thing is the delusion it creates that through our chores we achieve status in the religious pecking order where outward moral comparisons define one layer upon another of elder brotherhood. And all the while, the Father appeals:

 “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”

As we think about ourselves and our relationships with God, it seems we have choices to make. We can throw a party, or we can sing a dirge. Those who know they were sick and needed a physician will throw celebrations. Those who are fairing well in the religious pecking order must remain outside the party, grumbling and being content with their relative wholesomeness and productivity.

Father, I did not see the man lowered through the roof whose body was healed and whose sins were forgiven, but I have known a man who was raised from spiritual death as a prodigal and as an elder brother. Oh Lord, that I would remain a grateful, celebrating, lifelong friend to the friendless. For your Name’s sake, may our hearts be struck with astonishment and filled with awe. May the religious receive their invitation afresh. May the banquet continue, and may the alienation of myriad elder brother’s get the best of them, drawing them into the inner circle. Let it be.

 

Following and Being Led (Thursday) – Matthew 14:25-34

Following and Being Led – Matthew 14:25-34

Our passage today is the account of Jesus walking on the water. So, our practical application is…..? Well, in this case, even though we were were told we would be, we are not quite yet in the world as Jesus was. (1 John 4:17) Although… there may be hope. I did hear of a young zealot enrolled in a school of the supernatural who has been practicing. I don’t know if this was for extra credit or if it was just part of a challenging curriculum.

As we know, our passage goes on to describe the disciple’s and especially Peter’s response to Jesus as he approached their boat which was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. However, rather than focusing on this type of the miraculous, which we have little-to-no influence over, I would like to talk about what preceded the drama at sea which we do have control over.

Then He directed the disciples to get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent away the crowds. And after He had dismissed the multitudes, He went up into the hills by Himself to pray. When it was evening, He was still there alone. Matthew 14:22-23

It is Jesus’ intentionality I would like to explore. But I hesitate. Dare we even allude to discipline as a part of our walk with Jesus? Will we not defile grace the moment we exercise intentionality? I know of another devout man whose intentionality consists of intentionally doing nothing except what pleases him because God in his sovereignty is so thoroughly ruling, what is in his heart must have been decreed. Wow! I believe our two extreme examples of modern discipleship are they themselves missing the boat. Let’s dare to explore the heart of God in Christ as he walked on earth.

After he had miraculously fed the 5,000 people Jesus had an appointment but things needed to be done first. The preliminaries involved getting rid of the people around him. First; the disciples; He directed the disciples to get into the boat and go. Another translations read; He made the disciples get into the boat and go. The Message reads; “he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go.” Next; the crowds; He sent the crowds away. The same Jesus who said suffer not the little children from coming to him was now intentionally shooing people away. Talk about intentional! His motives become clear though….

 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.

Popular preaching has had Jesus dragging his exhausted ministry-depleted self up the mountain so he could get his batteries recharged (by praying) so he could get back to the business of saving the world ASAP. I don’t think so. I don’t see missions-minded Jesus reasoning, “I must pray. Souls are cascading into Hell until my batteries are recharged.” No. I see a love-driven Man simply responding to his heart’s longings to be with his Father alone. Recall (before, in the beginning), Jesus spent considerable time alone with the Father and has reserved it as a trysting place – a place where two people enjoy the intimacy of their relationship – often a reserved place where a rendezvous has been intentionally planned and is jointly anticipated. Upon reaching the summit, I envision Jesus taking a big deep breath and simply saying, “Oh how I love you Father!” I am sure that Father replied, I love you too Son. You are the absolute joy of my heart.”

Here in the middle of mysteries-a-plenty, between men fearful of a miraculous-less life and those fearful of initiating prayer (unless the urge strikes them of course) lest they trample on the grace by which they have been saved, I am envisioning the fundamental act of our intentionality playing out similarly to that of the scene I have portrayed of Jesus alone on a mountain with his Father. This is the essence, as best I can tell, of having a personal relationship with God. Without this dynamic in play, I am not sure what we have as Christians. A creed?

I do not envision our union with God in Christ any less miraculous than walking on water. The things below the feet of fallen man are far more threatening than what lurked beneath Jesus’ and Peter’s feet. Jesus has rescued us every bit as much as he rescued Peter. And he continues to do so as we cry out to him. Our problems are legion if getting out of the boat and following Jesus means getting out of bed and attending a church service. Really, how is this working for us? Hearing Jesus call to us and responding is better portrayed as us intentionality making a place where we meet with God, acknowledging and personally discovering the intimacy which is reserved for us there.

Many have acknowledged the merits of this idea. Few follow through where it becomes a lifestyle – an engrained habit, an anticipated joy. I do not see a great deal of hope for our world without men, women and children pioneering and inhabiting this place of personal intimacy with God. Without it all we have is a sterile, lifeless parody of life in Christ, one which has led the western world into the post-Christian era in which it appears to be firmly entrenched.

I am not without hope though. No man comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him. (John 6:44) Isn’t Father still drawing men to himself? Perhaps this is Father’s next move in the earth. Perhaps we are actually in a Pre-Christian era where a new wave of intimacy is about to be discovered where love displaces obligation as our heart-motive.

To be sure, at this time, our boat is a long distance from the land, battered by the waves with very contrary winds. However I know something about Father, without fail he rescues those who cry out to him. I also know that he is present, standing ready to meet with anyone who will get rid of the noise around them. Without fail those who do, eventually make the discovery that he has been there all along. FYI: This place I continually refer to is our hearts, not just a physical address.

I believe the fundamental prayer (or conversation) of authentic Christianity sounds like this, “Oh how I love you Father!” And Father replies, I love you too child. You are the chief joy of my heart.” I could see a day when the onlookers (and by the way, we are being watched) say, “You certainly are God’s sons!” If an old man is permitted to dream his dreams and make his proclamation this shall be mine.

Father, help us to discern the weather. Help us to understand our times. Give us courage to step out of our routines which so systematically exclude you. Even though it is frightening to step out onto the unfamiliar let us find that in you we are buoyant, that we can indeed walk with you who have overcome this world in all its wickedness as well as its busyness. Help us to discover that for us, who are in Christ and have Christ in us we can be deliberate, knowing that you are able to rescue us whenever our dependencies become misplaced. Draw all men unto you to that place where we privately and regularly celebrate our miraculous union. Let this be Father. I love you too.

P.S. The simple reason I give Blue Books away is that they are one of the Father’s best invitations to Relationship With God 101, a course in the original School Of The Miraculous. The Blue Book introduces you to the hearts of others who have been drawn out of the boat to walk with Jesus in greater intimacy. I have found it provides a loose approach (not a formula) to fashion this time to suit both us and the Lord who draws us.

Note: If you don’t know that word (“tryst”) please look it up. This post and the ideas presented therein will make more sense after you read the definition. It puts an entirely different spin (I suspect a missing one) on the essence of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following and Being Led (Wednesday) – Luke 18:18-30

Following and Being Led – Luke 18:18-30

For an American aspiring to enter into eternal life, whose nation’s bottom 5% lives better than 70% of the rest of the world, the most troubling word he might ever hear was the answer Jesus gave to a rich man’s question; “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ bombshell response…..

One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.

For myself, as an American living in the upper part of an unprecedented historical bubble of prosperity, who aspires to eternal life, it might be tempting to became very sad (like the rich young ruler) for I am extremely rich (along with a huge percentile of my fellow citizens).

If what Jesus spoke was intended for all men, I and every American citizen, who look to Jesus for their salvation is condemned on the grounds of having not given everything to the poor.  This is a troubling thought, apparently so troubling to some, they become monks to alleviate their trouble. By giving their belongings away they are at least clear on that count. However, once settled in their hermitage they must learn to pray at all times. So they attend various services throughout the day to remain clear on that count.  And we know how their vows of celibacy clear them of  lust. You probably see my point.

Even the most devout legalist is doomed. Religion will always set the bar such that righteousness, lofty as it is, still appears achievable. Religion then motivates men out of guilt to take fresh runs at various standards of righteousness hoping that they will clear the bar and live lives pleasing to God.

With the rich young ruler I do not believe Jesus was trying to establish a standard of righteousness where heaven could be purchased by selling all one’s possessions and distributing the proceeds to the poor. No. This would make a sham of the grace by which we are saved. At the same time, I do believe Jesus’ words were a laser guided bomb which had to be dropped into the rich young ruler’s heart. I believe with His piercing words Jesus was endeavoring to take out the stronghold of religion which had imprisoned this man in the idea that eternal kingdom life is attainable through meritorious deeds.

 

I don’t mean to isolate legalistic monks as the sole prisoners of religion. No man is exempt from this struggle. Monks are just the more obvious, thus convenient, examples. Born again believers are not exempt from legalism. More than once I have been liberated from religious mindsets.  On one occasion, I was taking a run at a bar with the anticipation I might actually clear it, when, on a dead run, the whole runway exploded beneath me.  To say my face-plant was painful would be an understatement. Like the rich young ruler, I was profoundly shaken.

In retrospect I am persuaded, out of His love for me, God dropped that bomb so that I could fully receive the gift. Eternal life is a gift. It cannot be purchased. If we are in anyway thinking our labors are earning his favor, his loving cross hairs are painted on our hearts. If we are fortunate the missile will find its mark and our religious delusions will be mercifully exploded.

Jesus, not being one to waste the fragments of a good bomb, allowed others he came to liberate to overhear and be disturbed along with the rich man. Stunned, they asked…..

                                                         Then who can be saved?

As much as any words Jesus ever spoke I am grateful for those he spoke in response to his befuddled friend’s question…….

                          The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.

Whether we live in the top 5% or the bottom 5% of the economic demographic, without Christ we live in profound spiritual poverty. And try as we may, in our fallen guilt, to appease a holy God through religious observances we remain impossibly estranged from Him. Our salvation is made possible exclusively though a gift. That gift is purely and simply Jesus. There is no other way to receive what the rich young ruler hungered for other than receiving Jesus, who cleared the highest bar of righteousness. Through a simple yet miraculous embrace of this reality we are made sons and daughters of God. He has breathed upon us and His life, His DNA is once again ours.

The one thing the rich young ruler lacked was not that he was unwilling to sell all that he had. He also lacked the understanding of grace and he lacked the understanding that Jesus Himself was the eternal Bread of Life. My suspicion is that the rich young ruler’s hunger eventually drew him to Jesus where he grasped the bigger picture, one where Christ was the fulfillment of the Law, and one who could dismantle every religious stronghold which opposes the grace gift of God in Christ. I believe after the resurrection, with God’s bigger picture alive in his heart, he reevaluated the meaning of “the poor” and of  “wealth.”

I believe in light of the great love with which this rich man discovered he was being loved, he readily surrendered the title (or right of self determination) of his possessions over to God. One day in eternity we will discover whether Jesus asked him to release him of this stewardship or not. I am betting God did not demand it of him. It would be a potent testimony to be in the world and not of it by stewarding this wealth while living free from its intoxicating and binding influence.

Father, continually lead the captives out of captivity, especially those hearts which have fallen back into laboring for your approval and blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following and Being Led (Tuesday) – Luke 5:27-31

Following and Being Led – Luke 5:27-31

After healing and forgiving a man’s sins who had been lowered on a cot through a roof Israel was struck with astonishment and, according to Luke, was filled with fear. As his nation was abuzz with awe Jesus went about his business and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.

“Luke! (actually Holy Spirit) Really?! Is this all you wanted to say here!! Did you not want to say a little something to explain why fish like Levi just jumped in the boat with Jesus?” Or, did you want us to reconstruct this story with the information we might glean as if reconstruction and gleaning were of some benefit, some benefit like manna for our own souls?” Ah yes, I think I get it. Thanks.

Who was Levi? All we know so far is that he is tax collector. And what do we know about tax collectors? Well, they are on the social pariah list right after undertakers – death being the only thing worse than paying taxes. To gain appreciation for Levi’s despised status imagine that the United States had lost the war to the Axis Powers in World War II. Then imagine an American citizen who was in the employment of either Germany or Japan whose job it was to collect your taxes, if necessary with the tact and force of a brutal occupying army. Levi was a man without a country loathed by his countryman beyond even their hatred of Rome. Even though he had committed the unpardonable sin of compromise, God did not see him as did his nation. God knew Levi was a lonely man who had to harden himself against the stones and slurs slung at him daily. Yet Jesus invites him into his inner circle. Beautiful!

We know that Levi was, at the very least, grateful and had a pent up desire to experience a party which Jesus’ unqualified acceptance apparently had triggered; And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. 

Maybe this was a regular scum-of-the-city dinner party but I suspect it was a celebration of an unprecedented nature. Levi had discovered that the most righteous and revered man who had ever trod the streets of Jerusalem thought enough of him to befriend him. Levi naturally assumed that Jesus would feel the same toward the rest of the city’s scum so he opened his home to them.  However, those who were most highly ranked in their religious culture, the un-scum, were not pleased…..

The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” 

I don’t know if they were all standing around together but Jesus preempts an answer from his fledgling disciples and said to them, 

It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

What an honor it would have been to have been there celebrating with these outcasts; eating, drinking and making merry with God incarnate as a living consternation to all the elder brothers who were standing outside the party thinking, “I’ve always done my chores and No One ever killed a fatted calf for me and my friends!”

Religion does a horrific thing to man’s spirit – every bit as intoxicating as lust or greed. Truly, if we are to take the story of Levi seriously, religion is far worse because it alienates. The horrific thing is the delusion it creates that through our chores we have achieved  some status in the religious pecking order where outward moral comparisons define one layer upon another of elder brother-ship. And all the while, the Father appeals….

 Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.

As we think about ourselves and our relationship with God it seems we have choices to make. We can throw a party or we can sing a dirge. Celebrations will be thrown by those who knew they were sick and needed a physician. Those who are fairing well in the religious pecking order must remain outside the party, grumbling and being content with their relative wholesomeness and productivity.

Father, I did not see the man lowered through the roof whose body was healed and whose sins were forgiven but I have known a man who was raised from spiritual death as prodigal and as an elder brother. Oh Lord that my heart would remain a grateful, celebrating lifelong friend to the friendless. For your Name’s sake, may our hearts as well be struck with astonishment and filled with awe. May the religious receive their invitation afresh. May the banquet continue and may the alienation of myriad elder brother’s get the best of them drawing them into the inner circle. Let it be.