Discipleship Is Hard

This is not an easy thing. I suppose it should never be an easy thing, one way or the other. If you are leading someone and not struggling at some points, I would wonder if it doesn’t mean the responsibility is being taken too lightly? And if it is not a struggle to be someone’s disciple, I wonder how much challenge really exists in the relationship? How much growth is being experienced?

Luke 8:22-25 “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

We have no idea what tone Jesus used when he asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” But their response of fear, to marvel, to question… it is clear that they are being challenged by their relationship with Jesus.

Luke 9:49-56“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Here you can see Jesus experiencing again and again the challenge of discipleship. While he has repeatedly taught about the Kingdom and the new covenant he was bringing to God’s people (and the disciples have spent a great amount of time with him hearing about it), he has to continue to tell them the most basic things, like those doing work in his name were for them and not against them, and that they should not in fact rain fire down from heaven on a village (on the scale of unloving to totally loving your neighbor, that falls a bit short).

Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. “

Paul, a standard setter of fathering followers of Christ and creating a community of believers reproducing believers, struggled with this even more.  He reminded, warned, praised, prayed for, lamented and chastised those he lead. He struggled deeply with them though, speaking harshly and threatening discipline. He took the responsibility seriously and wanted all followers coming through him to understand the reality of their salvation and necessity of their relationship with Christ.

Mark 12:24-27 “Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

This was the final example I reflected on when I was considering this repeating idea that discipleship is hard. Jesus, when talking to the Sadducees, emphasized the importance of knowing the Scriptures. He didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfill it. He referenced it all of the time and I don’t think it was just because people of that time understood it. It is our story with our Father, our God. It is clear in his words that it isn’t just about knowledge of Scripture, but knowing the power of God. This too must be something we strive to grow in as leaders and challenge growth in for those we lead.

As hard as discipleship is, of course I cannot shake the simultaneous image of the bearing of fruit. The purpose is for deeper relationship with Christ, with God, with the Spirit. And as we receive the Spirit and do the work to which we are called we bear fruit. To Paul, the sacrifice was sweet in that in brought us closer to Christ and the fruit it bore was in the ways God provided and could then be boasted in to others, so that they might also come to know Christ.

Matthew 7:16-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

So yes, Abba, I see this is hard. But I see the fruit for your Kingdom that comes through it.

Porn

I wanted to share this article because it’s totally accurate. Pornography is rampant in our society and I was no less immune to it than many other people I know. Even when I decided to start abstaining from it, I thought it was something all men do (which is nearly accurate statistically speaking) so I just embraced that pornography was part of our relationship. It hurt us in so many ways and the lie it tells is that it’s just you and it’s for the “small” amount of time you spend with it. But the price is so much higher.

I stopped watching porn when I realized that, whether or not those people chose to be filmed, I was bringing people into my relationship, and I was treating humans…. people… as some commodity I could consume for my own sexual pleasure. If you CAN’T stop watching porn for an extended period of time, isn’t that exactly why you should?

What happens When You Quit Porn (the article)

The article doesn’t dig into the biblical aspect of this, but I’m going to throw a few verses out there that will hopeful help to process what place pornography should have in our lives:

Matthew 5:28 “But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts.”

To look and want is to be unfaithful, and yet how else would we describe pornography? It is looking, wanting, and then being unfaithful in your thoughts with your body.

Colossians 3:5 “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” (NLT)

And is pornography not the embodiment of greed? I want exactly what I want, when I want, how I want? Pure selfishness, where you are giving nothing but taking everything, consuming people. This is not the behavior we are called to; it is counter to it.

1 Corinthians 6:18 “Don’t be immoral in matters of sex. That is a sin against your own body in a way that no other sin is.”

We are told that it is a sin against our body. For when we receive the Spirit of Christ, we are now in the Body of Christ, and what we do to our body we do to Christ’s body. So the sin being advised against is not to defile the body of Christ.

Hebrews 13:14 “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” (NLT)

A marriage is a covenant between two people and God and when you are not faithful to your spouse, you are also not faithful to the covenant you formed with our Father. So again, we must consider what we do and how we treat our relationships.

James 4:7-10 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (NIV)

The great news is we have a gracious God who gives us repentance: a confession and changing of ways. So let us consider the path we follow in a world that tempts us away from love and into greed and lust.

I Am Transforming

Things I did this week that the old me would not have done:

 

  1. I asked my Father to pray daily for my (future) husband
  2. I spoke to my Mother about wanting her wisdom (with a preference towards loving delivery) and that I would not respond the way I used to in the past
  3. I am taking steps of faith that only other people of faith seem to understand; and their support in the courage this requires of me is invaluable
     I could list a lot of the ways I have failed in the past few weeks too. I’ve really been beating myself up internally over it but I’ve moved through that space now. I was reminded, through the Bible, I am transforming. I am being changed. There are people who will not see it, or will not understand it, or will not like it. But this is the work of God.
     While the Spirit is something I received, I also have to choose to hear the Spirit and respond to it again and again. I have to change what was a lifetime of bad habits and sixteen years of denying God and replacing that guidance, that Kingship, with other things. Things like the American Dream, money, vacations, retirement, bitterness, anger, resentment, entitlement, recognition, etc. All these things I have to give up. Sacrifice. But is it a sacrifice when in return for offering all this up, I receive my God as my King? A Father who sacrifices for me?
     In I Corinthians 6:15-18 it says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not! [Or] do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For “the two,” it says, “will become one flesh.” But whoever is joined with the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Avoid immorality.”
     What does this say to me? Of course I could not fathom doing anything to damage the body of Christ and yet what do I do to myself? How do I treat others? I am a member of the body of Christ, and Christ a member of my body. So I should treat myself as I would treat the body of Christ and aspire to treat all those around me similarly. Which is why I pray a lot.
     I give thanks to God, always. I praise God. I pray for the people in my life. But then I pray for God to transform me even more. To make me over more into the image of my Maker. When I first started praying I wondered if my prayers were selfish but now I understand that the majority of my prayers focus on how I treat others. On how I impact the Kingdom. So I don’t think it a very selfish prayer after all. I want to see people the way God sees people and love them the way God loves them.
     I also repent. A lot. But this isn’t the self-loathing repentance you hear about or anything like that. I’m taking where I know I fell short to God and asking God to work with me in that area. And saying I’m definitely going to work on it too. I have a lifetime of transforming ahead of me.

Theological Reflection on Galatians

GALATIANS

I learned a tremendous amount from the letter to the Galatians but before I get into that, I first need to unpack two details I learned from Gorman’s Apostle of the Crucified Lord which is not necessarily made explicitly clear within the letter to Galatians itself. First, Paul would be what you might consider a “cruciform covenantal charismatic Jew,” meaning he was a Jew who believed in the crucified messiah Jesus Christ. This sacrifice, to Paul, fulfilled the old covenant (the Law) and created a new covenant in the shape of the life of Jesus and gave us each the ability to receive the Holy Spirit. Second, those Paul speaks against in Galatians are what you might call “messianic covenantal nomist Jews.”  This means that they believe Jesus was the messiah but his sacrifice was not sufficient and the gospel is supplemented by the keeping of the old covenant, so they required Gentiles to “convert.” To Paul, this is unacceptable because Christ is either all or nothing; Christ is either the son of God sacrificed as a fulfilling of the covenant and requires no supplement from us or he did not fulfill the covenant and was not the Messiah. This is why Paul finds those who want to circumcise Gentile followers of Christ so appalling.

Paul quickly jumps into a rebuke. Galatians 1:6-7, “I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by [the] grace [of Christ] for a different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ.” He’s so upset he skips the Thanksgiving and asks how they could forsake God who had the grace to call them. He then issues a double curse on those who he believes are perverting the gospel of Christ. He follows by defending “his” gospel. Galatians 1:12-13 “For I didn’t receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through revelation of Jesus Christ. For you heard my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church…” and goes on to outline the extraordinary source of his gospel and authority. After securely affirming his authority, which would be difficult for any of those who oppose him to surpass in reputation, he moves on to address the actions that they are taking, which is following the old laws.

He explains that circumcision is not necessary, and even references the Council of Jerusalem. Galatians 2:3, “Moreover, not even Titus, who was with me, although he was Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Those of repute in Jerusalem (the disciples) approved of Paul’s gospel and added nothing to it. He furthers his case by bringing up his challenge of Cephas, or Peter, at Antioch, whom Paul opposed to his face. Galatians 2:12-14, “For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him…But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews?” This is where we see the real contrast of what Paul was and what Jerusalem endorsed, and what Paul condemned in the “messianic covenantal nomists.” It appears to me that Paul uses this to show that even Peter could be confused by these “false brothers.” He then he lays forth a strong argument for faith and justification in Christ.

First, justification as translated from Greek has the same root as righteousness and is often tied to God as Judge but this was a very covenantal and relational term. It was meant for reconciliation. Second, faith is not just meant as a belief in God or trusting in God, but faithfulness to God. It is also a covenantal term that was more often related to things like loyalty, obedience, and devotion. In understanding this, I gain a much deeper understanding of what Paul teaches next. Galatians 2:15-16 “We, who are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles, [yet] who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even when we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” What Paul is saying is that Jews know the Laws, and those who believe know that they find reconciliation and justification in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ through their faithfulness. They know, having tried to keep the Law, that nobody can be justified or reconciled to God through the Law. To further clarify this point, Paul writes in Galatians 2:20-21 “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

Paul further chastises the Galatians and then asks them the probing question: from whence did you receive the Spirit? Works of the law or from faith? He even ties it back to Abraham, pointing out that Abraham’s justification and righteousness came not through the law but his faithfulness to God. Again he points to the fact that you are cursed if you cannot follow all laws, but it is told the one who lives by righteous faith will live. To refocus on the cruciform shape of Jesus’ life Paul finds central to faith, he summarizes it again in Galatians 3:13-14 “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Why the Law? As Paul wrote, the law was created for our transgressions, and we were being disciplined by a disciplinarian. With Jesus a new time has come where we are no longer under a disciplinarian but instead, all one in Christ. We had come of age. Galatians 4:3-7 “…we also, when we were not of age, were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” This is all a beautiful reminder to me of the extraordinary freedom I am experiencing in my faith. Paul immediately heads back into questioning why they would abandon this for the law, to experience isolation and exclusion from God by rejecting his mercy and grace.

He uses allegory with the story of Abraham having children with a slave woman and a freewoman before launching into another reminder: Galatians 5:4-6 “You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” This is an important message for us even in the modern day.  The work you do for God doesn’t matter if you aren’t doing it for the right reason. If you are doing it out of obedience to the law, and not out of love for Christ and the law of Christ, then it is worthless to God or even worse because you’re doing it to try to earn something that cannot be earned. We must do all things out of love.

Another reminder as valuable today as it was then, Galatians 5:13-15 “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbors as yourself. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” Reminding me of the Thessalonian readings, it is all about understanding the context of freedom in Christ, and in loving others. The emphasis is hat not being under the Law does not mean serving the desires of your flesh but the needs of your fellow man. So as to avoid some of the confusion that might be experienced, Paul helpful lists that which should be avoided: Galatians 5:19 “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like.” Lastly, we are provided with clues for what is of the spirit which I like to use as a kind of checklist to make sure I’m working with the Spirit: Galatians 5:22 “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

Repost: When to Break Up

While I will readily admit we are not on the same page for all things when it comes to certain issues within our faith  (like feminism), I certainly agree with what I found written in this blog post and I think this woman has a tremendous amount of insight to offer.

http://emwilsonmusic.com/blog/2015/1/27/why-today-is-the-day-to-break-up-with-your-boyfriend

 

 

Theological Reflections 2 Thessalonians

2 THESSALONIANS

While 2 Thessalonians is considered a disputed letter, it is still a biblical text and although perhaps not penned by Paul himself, offers great amounts of insight and wisdom into the faith of early Christians and the struggles of the early Church.  Additionally, it was most likely written, if not by Paul, by someone familiar with Paul. This kind of letter written by someone in another’s name (and as they would written) was not unusual in that time.

I particularly appreciate the symmetry we see to 1 Thessalonians in the Thanksgiving by the mention of faith and love and also in the acknowledgment of their endurance through the persecution that the church has been facing (whereas the previous letter discussed the trials that Paul has faced).  The prayer that follows is particularly powerful: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “…God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.” I feel like this would be an amazing prayer to memorize and pray for anyone who is suffering or feels like they are struggling.

Much of the writing focuses on deception by the devil and the Parousia, as well as  the signs that will come with the “lawless one” and warnings to believe the truth and not be deceived.  Shortly thereafter, perhaps to lighten the blow a bit, it says in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” In my experience I have found this so far to be true; that if I rest in the Lord’s word and seek God’s wisdom I find myself strengthened. It is not necessarily that the problems are any less but that the Lord has better equipped me to handle them and they seem less like problems. Additionally, when I have faith that God is in me, while someone may take my life on earth they cannot do anything to take away my eternity with God. In this way I am guarded.

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” I particularly enjoy this verse because it focuses on encouragement and hope as they face persecution; it reminds them to keep in the traditions they were taught, some of which don’t seem to stick with them. Apparently there are still lingering issues with idleness that weren’t resolved from 1 Thessalonians and so the advice now becomes even more extreme but seems to be consistent with other advice Paul has given.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7, “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of [our] Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us. For you know how one must imitate us…” They are not saying to shun all “disorderly” people but believers who are disorderly and refusing to change, eating free food from anyone or being idle when they are able to work. This is not the way of a believer and as Paul has explain in Corinthians, by expelling a believer the hope is that they will change their ways and return to Christ, receiving the Spirit. As it says in 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, “But you brothers, do not be remiss in doing good…take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame. Do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.”

The last bit I want to call out is the another part that echoes 1 Thessalonians, and it is again reminding them of how Paul and his followers lived. 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10, “…in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” This just further emphasizes the continuity that I Thessalonians has with 2 Thessalonians and reminds us it refers only to believers capable of work who will not.  A later line refers to people who are basically busy bodies rather than being busy working. In Greek it was a play on works that pointed out the difference between those who were busy and those who getting into other people’s business instead. This is why they advise that if you are able to work but are being a busybody instead you haven’t earned your food. It is not a line to condone denial of charity to those in need.