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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Follow Me! Alone



This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
John 21:19, KJV
This command Jesus gives is one of urgency, to be sure – nothing is more important. It is a command of difficulty – it is never easy to follow another faithfully, when our own heart leads with such pride. But, in addition to these things, it is a command of devotion. Jesus does not allow us to follow Him and another, or follow Him and ourselves. We are to follow Him alone, with a steadfastness that denies our very nature.

An Exclusive Command

Consider Elijah, many centuries ago, doing battle with the prophets of Ba'al who served the queen Jezebel. He brought them to Mount Carmel and stood alone against (essentially) the entire Israeli nation. There were 7,000 in the entire country served the true God, but they did not stand alongside Elijah on this day. In the loneliness which anyone who has ever stood up for what is right understands, this man of God faced a world of wickedness alone.

Physically, there was no reason for them to withstand him. They outnumbered him beyond comprehension, and he could have been slaughtered with ease. But God's hand was upon him, he spoke with boldness and the people listened.

Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people did not answer him a word.
1 Kings 18:21 NASB

The word translated 'hesitate' in the New American Standard Bible and 'waver' in the King James is the Hebrew word פּסח (pasach) which means 'to limp' or 'to dance.' Imagine someone trying to stand on two rafts, dancing back and forth between them, never placing their weight on either one. How long will you dance between these two masters? Serve the one who is god and abandon the other.

This attitude of true devotion was not fashionable and never has been. A big tent is always more comfortable than a smaller one. The Israelites of Elijah's day had not abandoned the Lord God – by no means! They had simply added other gods to him. Ba'al became His friend and Asherah Hid bride. To the Israelites, as long as they still had faith in the true God, what was the problem? God saw these people as adulterers. Wicked liars who claimed both their rightful husband and their lovers and denied any guilt.

"Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations.
Ezekiel 6:9 NASB

Jesus feels the same way. We may not serve Him and another – it is an unacceptable spiritual adultery. He demands our sole devotion. To follow Jesus is to lay aside any voice that draws us away from Him – "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." When we realize that earthly love is a shadow of the great heavenly love, this makes perfect sense. The lover does not see any but their beloved and will not allow any distraction. To try and follow Jesus and another human being will always lead to conflict. That person will never be in perfect agreement with the commands of our Lord, and when there is contrast, we must choose who we will obey. Jesus speaks through the millenia and says 'Follow Me.' He is 'the way the truth and the life' and everyone else is an imposter and not the true shepherd. While affection and devotion to those we can see is easy we must choose to follow Jesus alone.

This is perhaps the most difficult part of the commandment – that it is exclusive. The childishness which desires to be pleasing to all must give way to maturity. Please God and leave the consequences to Him.

Remember the word of the Lord Jesus:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me."
Matthew 10:34-38, NASB

If you follow after your family, children or anyone else, at the expense of God, you are not a disciple. If you make the decision to reject this teaching, have the integrity to not describe yourself as a Christian. Jesus says: “Follow Me.” Does this allow us to forsake our families and other obligations? Of course not. God calls us to carry out those things. But when the moment comes where you must choose between pleasing your God and pleasing the person dearest to your heart, Jesus tenderly says in your ear “Follow Me.” When you are tempted to compromise on some teaching of Jesus, He repeats “Follow Me.” When the things that you consider important – politics, love, money, power, fame or all that confounds run contrary to God's command, the refrain must echo through the ages: “Follow Me.”

May we take this heart. May we realize that it is a hard teaching, but we cannot serve two masters and we must break our own rebellious hearts and submit to God. May we wash everything we do in the water of His words and refuse to let anyone tempt us away.

My life, my love I give to Thee
Thou lamb of God who died for me;
O may I ever faithful be,
My Savior and my God!

Refrain

I'm living for Him who died for me
How happy now my life shall be
I'm living for Him who died for Me
My Savior and my God

Refrain

I now believe Thou dost receive
For thou hast died that I might live;
And now henceforth I trust in thee
My Savior and my God!

Refrain

O Thou Who Died on Calvary,
To save my soul and make me free,
I'll consecrate my life to Thee,
My Savior and my God!

Refrain

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Follow Me! Despite the Difficulty




This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
John 21:19, KJV

We return today to Jesus' powerful words: Follow Me. This commandment is the basis for the entire Christian life, and as we discussed yesterday, it is an urgent matter. Today, we will examine its profound difficulty and God's answer.

A Difficult Command

When Jesus compared following Him to carrying a cross, He knew the death He would die. He does not have a silver necklace in mind, but a massive beam of splintering wood, used for torture and execution. 

When Jesus called it dying to yourself, He knew more about death than anyone else who has ever been. 

When Jesus told the wealthy man to give up all He had - remember it was the one who left the glories of heaven who spoke! 2 Corinthians 8:9 is a powerful injunction.

To follow Jesus is to walk the path He walked. 'What would Jesus do?' is much more extensive than we often make it. He would give up all glory to serve the lowest of the low. He would reach out to the outcasts, the harlots and anyone who would have Him. In a country such as ours, Jesus still commands us to be Downwardly Mobile. Couched in our materialism, it is hard to think of a more difficult command than that. But Jesus asks more. 

If we are to follow Him, we cannot just have servant actions, but a servant heart! It is not enough to God to appear good and to bring our external actions into line with His will. We must bring our very identities into conformity! Philippians 2:5-8 tells us that we must have the same servant's mindset that took Jesus to the cross. It is no easy task to become a totally new person. Now we see why Nicodemus struggled when Jesus told him that he must be born again (John 3). 

Jesus knew suffering and He knew loss. He asks us to follow that same road. Is it difficult? Of course it is. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter in - with men this is simply impossible! Some of you, with some acquaintance with your Bible are now confused. Did not Jesus say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light? How can these things be? Consider this:

Wikipedia
A yoke has two notches. The reason Jesus' yoke is easy is because he became a servant. Because he bends down low and carries our burden with us, the weight is off our shoulders. It is not my responsibility to be good enough - but God's promise to make me so. With men, these things are impossible! With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:25-26). The same God who calls us to follow, empowers us to follow. 

Cheer up, weary one. It is hard for the ox to pull the cart with his neck twisted around, staring at his burden. Take your eyes off your troubles and put them on your Jesus! Let the dead bury their own dead, let the riches of the world rot alone, but follow the Lord. He will not lead you astray.

May we realize that the call to follow is a hard one, but choose to accept it anyway. May we see that God empowers us to carry out these duties and that we need not do it alone. I pray that we submit happily to what God has given us and to follow even to the death. 

In closing, let me share another hymn, about which the author wrote: "Long­ing to give up all for Christ who had giv­en his life for me, I want­ed to be will­ing to lay ev­er­ything at his feet, with no wish but to do his will, to live hence­forth on­ly for his glo­ry. Out of this feel­ing came the hymn, ‘Fol­low On.’ It was writ­ten with the pray­er and the hope that some heart might by it be led to give up all for Christ."

Down in the valley with my Savior I would go,
Where the flowers are blooming and the sweet waters flow;
Everywhere He leads me I would follow, follow on,
Walking in His footsteps till the crown be won. 
Refrain: 
Follow! follow! I would follow Jesus!
Anywhere, everywhere, I would follow on!
Follow! follow! I would follow Jesus!
Everywhere He leads me I would follow on!
Down in the valley with my Savior I would go,
Where the storms are sweeping and the dark waters flow;
With His hand to lead me I will never, never fear,
Danger cannot fright me if my Lord is near
Refrain

Down in the valley, or upon the mountain steep,
Close beside my Savior would my soul ever keep;
He will lead me safely in the path that He has trod,
Up to where they gather on the hills of God. 
Refrain


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Follow Me! With Urgency

Read: John 21:18-25


This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
John 21:19, KJV

Today I would like to focus on those two words: 'Follow me.'

The expression shows up 16 times in the gospels1, each time from the lips of Jesus. These words are the theme of Jesus' hardest sayings:


  • Follow Me and let the dead bury their dead (Matthew 8:22, Luke 9:59).
  • If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and Follow Me (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23).
  • Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and Follow Me (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22).


Our text in John could obviously be added to this list.

Follow me! Two simple words - but what a command!  (1) It is an urgent command, (2) it is a difficult command and (3) it is an exclusive command. Today we will only look at the first, but I invite you to return tomorrow and the next day for the rest of this study. Please read the passage each day.

An Urgent Command

The command to follow Jesus is not something to be put off. Do not wait to bury your father, let the dead bury their own dead. One thing particularly striking in this command of our Lord is how he lets nothing else get in the way of it. The usually patient Christ, who explains simple things to his disciples time and time again, has no time to waste here.

It is, first of all, the basis of all other commands. Until you follow Jesus, everything else is in vain. When we tarry on the foundation, any other work done is wasted. Anything done outside of the will of the Lord, no matter how worthy, will be wasted. A captain may direct a ship bravely  in the face of storms and stones, but if he ignores the map he has done nothing. Our lives are worthless until we fall behind the master. What do you know of Abraham in the time before he left his country to go to the place God had shown him? He lived for many decades, but it did not matter until he followed Jesus. For 80 years, we know but little of Moses, until he came to the burning bush and followed the I AM. Every man's life is a vapor and his every work futility, until he follows Jesus.

Second, it is a command with lasting consequences. When you die, do you expect to see heaven? If you have not followed Jesus by trusting in Him for the forgiveness of your sins, you will not. You do not know when you will die and pass beyond the point of all choices. Choose the Lord now, while you are able! Today, do not harden your hearts. Today is the day of salvation.

Last (most simply and importantly), it is a command of God. This is obvious. If someone you do not care about tells you to do something, you may give them pause. With certain restrictions, the more you respect someone, the quicker you will comply with their requests. If God Himself says 'Follow Me!' who are we to say 'In a minute'? If He is sovereign, benevolent and omnisapient - He ought to be obeyed now

When Jesus says 'Follow Me!' Do it then. Whether it be a call to salvation, baptism, professional ministry2 or anything else, do not put it off! The hour is later than you think and the task is more urgent than any human being can know.

This is best punctuated with a story, reportedly told by Billy Graham:
In January of 1936, the Southern Baptist songwriter B. B. McKinney was leading the music at the Alabama Sunday School Convention which was held that year in the town of Clanton. 
The featured speaker was the Reverend R. S. Jones, McKinney’s friend of many years, who because of ill health had recently returned from missionary service in Brazil. 
The two men were visiting over dinner one evening when Mr. Jones revealed to Dr. McKinney that his physicians would not allow him to return to South America. 
When asked about his future plans the missionary said, “I don’t know, but wherever He leads I’ll go.” 
The words stuck in Dr. McKinney’s mind, and before the convention’s evening session began, he had written both the words and music of this song. 
At the close of Mr. Jones’ message, Dr. McKinney related this story and sang “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go” to the congregation.

And the hymn:
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,” I heard my Master say;
“I gave My life to ransom thee, Surrender your all today.”
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
He drew me closer to His side, I sought His will to know,
And in that will I now abide, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
It may be thru’ the shadows dim, Or o’er the stormy sea,
I take my cross and follow Him, Wherever He leadeth me.
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
My heart, my life, my all I bring To Christ who loves me so;
he is my Master, Lord, and King, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.

Have some thoughts? Leave a comment!

1 The gospels are the accounts of Jesus' life on Earth: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you search, you may count 19. Once, follow is a different word with a different sense in the original language (Matthew 4:19) and one verse contains two instances of 'follow me' which are not commands and are grammatically different in the Greek (John 13:36).
2 What an awful term! I use it in the conventional sense of someone who works as a full time pastor, Christian writer, etc. We should all, however, be in professional ministry!

Monday, September 10, 2012

What's It to You?

Read: John 21:18-25


Jesus *said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”

- John 21:22, NASB

After his three-fold expression of love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter of the future. While at the last supper Peter had professed an agape love which Jesus knew was a phileo love (leading to a three-fold denial when fear overcame affection), now Peter professes a phileo love which Jesus knows will be an agape love, leading to a martyr's death. Jesus, on this sunny beach just after dawn, looks Peter in the eye and tells him darkly that his arms will be stretched out in crucifixion. This solemn disclosure is followed by the plain command: "Follow me!"1

Immediately, Peter slips into his flesh2. He asks what will happen to John: 'If I have to die this way, what about him?' It is a very human response, but is the same sin Peter had become so comfortable with. He finds his contentment in comparing himself to others. Jesus' response is a liberating one that we should all take to heart. "If I want John to remain alive until I return, what's it to you? You follow Me!"

God does not grade on a curve. When others fail, it does not elevate us. The person who waits to find the perfect church before joining it sits in the seat of the scornful and misses the entire point. Jesus tells Peter to quit looking at everyone else and keep his eyes on His Master. It is the secret to every element of life to give up on the rat race and simply follow where Jesus leads. If one is called to be a slave and another is called to be President, let each do what God has called them to cheerfully - they will be judged on how well they followed the duty given them, not how they compared to each other.

Humility is in this: It is not my place to judge my neighbor (Romans 14:4). God does not consult me and ask if He should accept you. If I see you in some sin, I will try to pluck you out of it (James 5:20), but I cannot condemn you. You will stand or fall before your own master, and I must stay out of it. Christ keeps us humble by not making us lord over each other. If God told Peter that something was none of his business, how much more me!

Wisdom is in this: Where God has been silent, I must be silent. Many waste time trying to dig out answers God has not given. We read of the water turned to wine and wonder how the molecules twisted to make this happen. Jesus looks at us with the voice of a father (loving, yet stern) and says 'What is it to you? You follow me!'

Peace is in this: How many times have you compared yourself to someone else and felt wanting? Your Lord says not to be concerned with it, but simply to follow.

If I wonder why my devotionals read like a cereal box compared to George Morrison, Jesus says 'What is that to you? Follow me.'

If Darrell Streeter preached with the power of Elijah while I stutter? 'What is that to you? Follow me.'

If James Heflin can explain any subject while I am met with confused stares?  'What is that to you? Follow me.'

If I know masters of singing, church growth, counseling?  'What is that to you? Follow me.'

If I see others who wax strong in illness, rejoice effortlessly in tribulation and are unphased by anything thrown their way?  'What is that to you? Follow me.'

You see how wonderful this all is. Jesus does not compare me to anyone else and I should not either. He gives me a task and equips me for it. If I am faithful to that task, I am just as exalted as any other. If later I am called to more, he will equip me for more. Let us then be humble - that we are nothing in ourselves (John 15:5), God provides everything we have and will provide everything we need.

Imagine John in old age, sitting alone in the dark when the 11 other apostles were all dead. Everyone but Judas the betrayer had laid their life down for Jesus and here he lived on by himself. Do you think he was plagued with doubts then? Did he wonder why he had not been trusted with martydom? Did he worry that God knew he would not be found faithful in the final test?

Jesus' answer to Peter's foolish remark is for you. You are not master of your neighbor - be humble and let God set the path for His own servant. You are not privy to all of the secrets of the universe and could not handle them in any case - trust God to show you what you need to know in His Word. You are not anyone else - let God make you who you need to be.

May God help us to follow Him like trusting, loving children. May we never grow arrogant when we see others struggle and may we never feel crushed when others succeed. I pray that the glorious liberty we have been given - justified by faith alone, concerned with our relationship to Jesus alone - will never be forgotten. Lord, help us in the struggle with the unknown to bow to your will.

Let us face the whole day with this simple attitude:  'What is that to me? Follow Him.'



1 For the link to death on a cross, see John 13:36-37.
2 The word flesh is the Biblical term used for the sinful nature of man, especially in Paul's letter to Rome.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Roots

Read: Psalm 1 (again, it will be good for you)

[The happy man] will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, 
Which yields its fruit in its season  
And its leaf does not wither; 
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalms 1:3, NASB

In 2009, an apartment building collapsed in Shanghai in a tragedy so dramatic than many suspected it to be an internet hoax. Nearly completed, it simply fell over and claimed the life of one worker inside. According to the Wall Street Journal, 489 of the 629 apartment units had been spoken for and would shortly have been claimed.

China Daily
Wall Street Journal
The cause? A bad foundation. Soil had been excavated for a garage beneath the building and placed alongside the complex. When the wind and the rain came, the condensed soil shifted and tore at the foundation of the building and there was nothing to hold it up. Externally, the building appeared fine, but beneath the surface was imminent failure.

People, this psalm teaches us, are the same way. Yesterday we studied how certain characteristics and activities keep people from being happy. Today, we look at happiness in a positive light: if I am to be happy, what can I emulate?

Let us look first to experience. Many of us have had the pleasure of knowing certain people who are steady. It seems that whatever happens to them, they do not lose control.

Do not mistake steadiness for the kind of plastic-faced smile that some people exhibit. Poor indeed is the character of a person who never weeps with their broken-hearted friend or never nods sympathetically with the plight of another. A steady person is far less superficial than that. The steady person may not be the first one to point out the light at the end of the tunnel, even when they see it, because they know that there is a time for weeping (Ecclesiastes 3:4). But they do not collapse when trouble comes, but stand tall through it. When you cry, they can cry with you because they know they will not fall into despair. When you laugh, they can laugh with you, without sinking to frivolity. What defines this steady person? Roots.

You see, in contrast to the unrighteous person, the one who is blessed (happy) focuses on the law of God (the Bible). The righteous one thinks on God's promises and God's perfection instead of the faults of others and follows in God's way instead of the way of the wicked. Because this person does not draw their strength from shifting sands, but from the immutable God (Malachi 3:6), they can be happy regardless of their circumstances. A tree with deep roots will survive when the rain stops, because it draws on water you cannot see. The person with a strong private relationship with God will stand strong and prosper publicly. Someone who makes a big show of religion, but has no roots in private prayer and Bible study, will be scorched in the sun and blow away like chaff - this person is wicked, no matter what illusion they give. When we give into the American mindset of self-reliance, we do not develop roots. When we rely on God fully, then we can draw on a strength greater than ourselves. We can be steady in a tipping world. The correlation between this book of Psalms and Genesis is now plain: it is not about our situation, but our source. The God who started it will sustain it to the end, and to seek another source is to face ruin.

May God help us to rely on him and not look to appearances, but to find a happiness which supersedes circumstances. Not an illusory happiness, but a real joy which goes down deep. May we read our Bibles not to pride ourselves on information, but to know God better. Let us pray, not as a magic wand nor a last resort, but as communion with our Lord.

If you don't ordinarily read your Bible, the scriptures referenced at the start of each blog are a start. Pray about them. Ask God to help you apply them and talk to Him about your problems as if you were talking to a friend. It is a discipline well rewarded.

If you enjoy this blog, please send some of your friends an e-mail about it or write them a note. Send them to MissionaryBaptist.Blogspot.com and don't forget to leave your comments or questions!



Saturday, September 8, 2012

Smile!


Read: Psalm 1

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
Psalms 1:1, NASB

The book of Psalms was the songbook of the nation of Israel. It contains in some places raw, emotional poetry and in others the refined language of liturgy. Psalms is the largest book in the Bible at 150 chapters and is itself divided into 5 'books'. Psalms 1-41 make up the first book, mostly written by King David. It is widely believed that the 5 books correspond to the 5 books of Moses, linking this collection of Psalms to Genesis – the book of beginnings. The relevance of this will become more apparent as we study the Psalms together in the days ahead.

Blessed, the first word of the first psalm, is Christian-ese for a Hebrew word אשׁר (esher) which simply means happy. The first psalm is describing the question that nearly all people face in their lives: how can I really be happy? In the first verse, David explains it negatively, by listing three things which will keep you from being happy. 

Paraphrasing slightly: Happy is the man who (1) does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, (2) does not stand in the path of sinners and (3) does not sit in the seat of scoffers. I would like to spend a little time considering each of these. 

First, the way we walk can prevent us from being happy. Everyone has been the victim of bad advice, but it seems some people make a lifestyle of it. When we walk in the counsel of the wicked, we allow those who are ungodly to set our path for us. They might (and often do) have the best of intentions for us, but they do not know all of the consequences. A place might not be bad intrinsically, but will be disastrous for the wrong person at the wrong time; any path which is not God's path for our life will be the path of trouble. Trying to walk our own way, which is the way of wickedness, apart from God will prevent us from being happy.

Second, where we stand can prevent us from being happy. Somewhere below our actual activity, standing has everything to do with association. While we should not cut ourselves off from other people (a very important point which I do not mean to understate*), we must remember that bad company corrupts much easier than good company reforms. This does not refer to literal proximity (as Jesus sat with the adulterers, the crooked tax collectors and other notorious sinners and even spent time with them), but to standing in the path of their lives. We should not try and align our situations with those caught up in sin, daring ourselves to be caught up in the same. Thinking we can handle the temptation quickly becomes an exercise in the worship of our own will. Moreover, we almost always fall into the sin we thought we could resist. Like leaning over a deep pit, our intellect ought to override our curiosity. Examples are plentiful: spending time with ill-tempered people puts us in a bad mood (making us ill-tempered), trying to slip into the halls of the greedy makes us focus on the material and fall into greed, et cetera. Usually, people know they are unhappy in certain company, but still are drawn to it, like someone depressed is drawn to a sad song or a moth is drawn to a flame. These things clearly will prevent us from being happy.

Third, and most obviously, is that when we sit in the place of scoffers, we will not be happy. Sitting is more passive than standing or walking, and scoffing is more passive than actions or associations. The scoffer is defined by his attitude. Here is the person who cannot, and will not, be pleased. They are constantly afflicted, but it is never their fault. Everyone is out to get them and everyone is incompetent. When presented a rose, all they see is the single withering petal. Such people usually seem to brag about their illnesses and get pleasure from being unhappy. You know at least one of these people, and might be one yourself. To quote Ray Stedman: “Parents blame the children, the children blame the parents, and they both blame the schools. The schools blame the parents and the government. The government blames the hippies; the hippies blame the establishment. One nation blames another nation.” The plain message of the Bible here is that if you choose to lounge around complaining, you keep yourself from being happy. A critical spirit, while it may bring pleasure for a little while as you build yourself up at the expense of others, will ultimately leave you empty and unhappy.The critical spirit might lead us to associate with the wicked beyond propriety. Association may lead us to walk in their paths. Where you sit affects where you stand and where you stand affects where you walk. Sorrow begets sorrow.

Let us turn away from these things! Let us give up our negative attitudes, the painful associations and the activities that go against God. If we instead seek God first and walk in His ways (Matthew 6:33 and Deuteronomy 5:33), spend time with the righteous and the wise (Proverbs 27:17 – specifically in church: Hebrews 10:25 and Acts 2:42), and look for the good first (Philippians 4:8), we will be happy.

* If you follow this blog, you will see me elaborate on this more another time. The basic overview is this: you want your boat in the water, but you don't want the water in your boat. We can and should spend time with those who need Christ, but we need to be aware of our own weakness and avoid situations which will tip us over the edge. How close is too close? We must have the discernment of God to see this. Remember that in an airplane, you put your oxygen mask on before helping children around you. You cannot help them if you are incapacitated. In general, you know how close you can get, even if you don't want to know it. More to come on this subject at a later date. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

How do you love me?

Read: John 21:1-19


We return today to the beach where Jesus ate with His disciples.

Note that there are 4 Greek words for love:
(1) Eros - romantic love, not found in the New Testament.

(2) Storge - natural affection, like a parent has for their child. 

(3) Agape - sacrificial love, consuming, unconditional love. This is the love of John 3:16, 1 Corinthians, etc.   Often described as a godly love, this is an error. It is also the sinful love for the world in 2 Timothy 4:10. It is the kind of love we ought to have for our enemies - not based in their worthiness, but unconditional. It is the love for God commanded in Mark 12:30. This is also the love Jesus had for the apostle John (the disciple whom Jesus loved). 

(4) Phileo - brotherly love, a strong liking (as in Philadelphia - the city of brotherly love). This world comes form the word philos, which means friend. God is said to have a phileo love for His people in Revelation 3:19. We are also commanded to have a phileo love for God in 1 Corinthians 16:22.

Studying the Greek language, it is apparent that phileo means love in the sense that I love chocolate chip cookies or the color blue. It refers to an affection. If we take Peter's conversation with Jesus and translate agape as love and phileo as like, this is what we get:

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" 
He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I like You." 
He *said to him, "Tend My lambs." He *said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" 
He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I like You." 
He *said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." He *said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you like Me?" 
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you like Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I like You." 
Jesus *said to him, "Tend My sheep. "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, "Follow Me!"
- John 21:15-19, NASB  (my edits in color)

Place yourself in Peter's shoes. You denied your Lord 3 times, after bragging about your love. He asks if you love Him more than the others do, and you say yes, you have a strong liking for him. Again he asks, and again you answer the same way. The third time, He asks if you like him strongly, and you realize what has gone wrong. 

Peter, it seems, really believed that the phileo love he felt for Jesus was better than an agape love. He felt that his fondness for his master was something great. In one sense it was, as we are to phileo God. But God deserves both. We must love Him unconditionally and steadfastly (agape) and love Him for who He is and what He has done (phileo). It is phileo love that made Peter jump out of the boat when he saw Jesus on the beach, but it was agape love that placed Isaac on the altar. As Baptists, we usually want to have just an agape love. We believe a steadfast love for God is the end-all, but we are wrong. God demands the passion that phileo love brings and the steadiness of agape love.

May God help us to love Him completely and without reservation - in every way. If we lack phileo, let us look to the cross and see all that Jesus did for us. If we lack agape, let us realize that we must grow in maturity, or risk this:

Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
Matthew 26:74-75 KJV



Thursday, September 6, 2012

How much do you love me?


Read: John 21:1-19

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?"
- John 21:25, NASB
 The scene is a beach on the sea of Tiberias, a crystal clear body of water 12 miles wide by 7 miles long. The risen Jesus, master of heaven and earth, conqueror of death and the grave, has just sat down in the dirt and cooked his disciples some fish to share for breakfast. After they had eaten, Jesus looks at Peter - the one who had denied his Lord three times, and asks a painful question: Do you love me more than these?

Remember, Peter had said that he loved Jesus most of all and would stay by Jesus even if everyone else abandoned Him. Peter, however, instead denied Jesus even while Jesus was led to the cross to die for Peter's sins.So Jesus asks: Do you love me more than these? Do you really love me as much as you claim?

The kind of love that he had claimed (a sold-out, Jesus-or-nothing devotion) was the morally right thing.  Peter had been told before that he must love Jesus most of all, by Jesus Himself:
"Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. "
Matthew 10:32-38,  NASB
The dilemma was not whether Peter should live up to his claims, but whether he did. He had compared himself to the love of the other disciples before, but now he knows better. It is not about how much anyone else loves God, but how much you do. 

Jesus poses the same question to us today. Do you love me more than your breakfast, your brethren, your mother, your father, your spouse, your children and all the rest? Would you give up everyone you care about if God asked you to? Often times we do not and we cringe at the thought: A parent who loves God more than their child? A husband who loves God more than his wife? A child who loves God more than his family?

That is the kind of adoration God demands. He says "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," and he means it.

Is it hard? Yes. It is easier to love the ones we can see and touch than it is to love the God we cannot. But we must love Him for who He is - completely. This is an area where we can all do better, myself especially. It is easy enough to pay lip service to "God first." It is much harder to actually have that heart.