2 Thessalonians 3 – Don't Be Idle

Read 2 Thessalonians 3

We could probably rename this chapter to be “Understanding Dutch Work-Ethic.”  Phrases like, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” remind me of some of the hard lessons I’ve learned about work and responsibility over the years.  Not that I’ve ever gone without food, but I have learned the necessity of working hard to have the things that I want.

That lesson, however, is not really what Paul is getting at here in his parting words to the church in Thessalonica.  There certainly is an element of that, but it goes much deeper in the community of faith than simply working hard.  Paul understands that a community that is not working together will ultimately fail.  Indeed, when churches are full of people that are only there to be fed, with a select (sometimes hired) few to do the feeding, they are bound for failure.

We need people to be active participants in the faith community, living out the call of unity and love toward each other.  For when times get tough, we lean on each other in this community for strength.

As the human body summons multiple muscle groups to assist when lifting a heavy object, so too does the body of Christ depend on all its members for the often heavy lifting of life and ministry.

Indeed, this is true in our personal walk with Christ as well.  Idleness in our relationship with Christ will lead to a plateau in our spiritual growth.  All of Scripture calls us to and active relationship with Christ in response to the grace and love that we have been shown by God through Him.

While there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation or increase our favor with God, there is a danger in removing “works” from our vocabulary completely.  There is a danger that the enemy exploits far too often, that because everything is taken care of through grace, we don’t need to do anything in our Christian walk.  This leads to idle Christians, lack of growth, and ultimately selfish tendencies that destroy disciples and churches.  We must be on our guard against that…



Luke 14 – All In

Read Luke 14

Jesus teaches that those who would truly follow Him must have an “all in” mentality.  His words are straight forward, even seeming harsh at times.  Those that follow Jesus must hate their family and their own life?  That seems somewhat contrary to other teachings.

Yet what we see here is that Jesus is not telling us to literally hate everyone, including ourselves, but rather that we need to make sure that our priorities in life are straight.  If we are to follow Jesus, we cannot do it half-heartedly.  He came with the “all in” life that ultimately led to His death and resurrection and our salvation; He asks the same from us.

He illustrates this by addressing humility and the priorities of would-be followers.  He also demonstrates this through once again healing on the sabbath in the face of the religious leaders, the tradition, and the law.  The point?  Those who would follow Jesus must be “all in.”

What Jesus is making sure we understand is that following Him means doing so 100%.  We cannot say that Jesus is Lord of our lives, but then live our lives following any number of “lords” that we typically have.  Our relationship with God must come first; when that is in place all other things will fall in line well.  Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God… and all these things will be added to you.”

There are many practical applications to this.  Some would say that being in church on Sundays is how one puts Jesus first, but then live the rest of each day as if He doesn’t exist.  However putting Jesus first requires true sacrifice, one greater than an hour of sleep once a week.  There is a reason Jesus refers to this as “taking up your cross.”



Matthew 28 – Sabbath & Re-Creation

Read Matthew 28

The Sabbath day is one of the most significant days in Jewish life.  Apart from humanity being the crown of creation, the significance of the Sabbath is the first declaration in Genesis 2.  Today I am struck by the fact that Jesus’ full day in the tomb is the Sabbath day, the day of rest.

In Hebrews 10, the author makes this connection between the work accomplished by Christ.  His once for all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world ushers believers into a “sabbath rest,” the reality that we no longer have to do ritual sacrifices to gain forgiveness.  Instead, we rest in the assurance of faith in Jesus Christ and that we are heirs of eternal life.

It is no coincidence then, that Jesus resurrection happens on the first day of the week then, the same day that God begins work on creation, the day that New Life is sealed in Christ’s defeat of death itself.  The work of God in creating the world and the work of Christ is redeeming it, bringing new life out of death are intimately related, and the theme of Sabbath flows through both.

Too often we subscribe to the idea that we have to do a lot of work for ourselves to earn a place in God’s Kingdom, to repay Him for what He did for us.  We Christians set up laws for ourselves, never saying that we have to earn salvation, but often implying it.  Certainly we are called to live out our faith, fulfilling the great commission to make disciples, but we do this out of grateful obedience, not to earn our salvation.  When we act as though we need to earn the grace we are given, we unknowingly diminish the power and work of Jesus on the cross.



Matthew 21 – The Greatest Danger

Read Matthew 21

Matthew continues to point his audience, primarily intended to be Jews,  back to the Old Testament Scriptures, showing Jesus as the fulfillment of all prophecy.  In the two major events that we are familiar with, the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the temple, Scripture is directed toward Jesus as the fulfillment.  Even Jesus’ teaching contains Scripture that references Himself as the Messiah.

However, it isn’t the presence of Scripture that has the Pharisees so concerned, but it’s content.  Israel’s past when it comes to listening to those whom God has sent as prophets is sorted, at best.  Most of the prophets that God sent were rejected and even killed because of their message.  While God continued to try and draw His covenant people back to Himself so that they could live into their true identity, the people continued in their disobedience and, in some ways, became much like the fig tree that Jesus cursed: fruitless.

I wonder if this is the greatest danger God’s people face today.  Over and above the decentralization of the church, societal marginalization, and even persecution both physical and ideological, when God’s people become content to simply exist, to play it safe, and to pursue those things that make us comfortable… not that which makes us disciples called to make disciples.

Jesus’ parables were directed at the people of Israel; the Pharisees and Matthew’s readers would have recognized this.  However, the teaching holds incredibly true for God’s people today as well.  The Church in North America has rested on it’s laurels for far too long.  Her past achievements have been enough, some think, to warrant a voice in today’s culture, however those passing too often see a tree with leaves but no fruit, and Jesus says, “A tree is known by it’s fruit.”



Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering

As we continue in our reading, we come to the books of first and second Peter.  Tradition holds that it was the Apostle Peter that wrote these two books, probably while he was in Rome.  Whether or not this is true, I guess, is besides the point.  Reading today you’ve probably picked up on a common theme that has been prominent, especially in the latter letters of Paul and these general letters that have gone out to the whole church.  As the Church continued to grow and spread out throughout the Roman Empire, it continued to face a great deal of persecution and struggle.  The Roman government acknowledged the Church as a sect of Judaism, something that was not necessarily beneficial to Christians.  The Jews has often been hostile to Roman rule, which caused many believers to be persecuted on behalf of the Jews.  More than that, the Jews themselves obviously didn’t accept the Christians as well, thus causing more persecution.  Many believers lost all that they had, their homes, businesses and any sort of ability to sustain a living for themselves and their families, all because they professed faith in Christ.  The further on we go in the first century, the more this becomes prevalent.

Peter, or the writer of First Peter, knew this and was writing into this very issue.  The Church had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire; this letter is addressed to the churches throughout what is no known as Turkey.  Peter also addresses this letter “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  He could mean a number of things here.  Returning once again to Dr. Robert VanVoorst’s book Reading the New Testament Today, VanVoorst writes that Peter could be referring to “spiritual exiles” in that all believers are spiritually exiled from the fully realized kingdom of God and reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Another reason could be an implication that the writer was looking to target a Jewish audience as well, using words like “exile” and “dispersion” which show up in the Old Testament a great deal.  In any case, it is clear that Peter is writing to many churches during a time of increased persecution.

One of the main points that Peter is making in this letter actually speaks directly into this time of trial and struggle and in many ways echoes the book of James.  Peter is imploring the believing community that they are called to live lives of faith and to testify to Christ Jesus, even if it brings them troubles in this life.  From the very beginning, Peter talks about the salvation that we receive in Christ Jesus, and continues by saying “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It may be easier in life to acknowledge faith in church and even in our speech with other Christians, yet hiding it from the rest of the world so as to not face persecution.  However, this is not the way that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  In my discipleship class this year we have talked at great length about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what that looks like in our lives and in the lives of the church.  Ultimately this is lived out in the calling that we have had since the beginning, To Love God and To Love Neighbor.  This is the greatest commandment that Jesus testifies to and that even Israel was called to.  This calling has two aspects, an inward action to love God and to love neighbor, and an outward action to show the love of God in our lives and to do that towards our neighbor.  Faith and Christian discipleship are not something to be lived out only in the Church building on Sunday mornings, they are things that are to be lived out EVERYDAY, they are the out flowing of what happens on Sunday morning.

What does this look like?  Peter addresses this by saying that it looks, first and foremost, like having Christ as the cornerstone of our  lives.  It also shows up in our submission to authority and respect of it in the world (whether we agree with it or not).  It shows up in how we love and treat our family, with love and respect.  It shows up in our vocations, even if it leads to suffering or persecution (a word I use in the lightest of senses because Christians in North America do not truly know what it means to be persecuted to the point of imprisonment and death).  It also shows up in our we interact with other Christians as well, which brings us back around to the notion of discipleship.  Peter exhorts the “elders” among them to be good shepherds of the flock, something that we often loose in our churches today.  Older folks do not feel that they can relate to the younger generations, or that the young have any desire to listen to them, but they do and the church is in desperate need of people that are solid in their faith to come alongside the young and immature so that they can be built up into Christ.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.



Day 304: Luke 19-20; Questions… Questions…

We talked a while back about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and about His ministry in Jerusalem throughout the last days of His life on earth.  So today, I would like to focus on the questions that Jesus fields from the religious leaders.  While today I am referring to a very particular section of of Luke 20 in which the religious leaders are challenging the authority of Jesus, I think that most of the questions from the religious leaders towards Jesus would fit into this category save those from Nicodemus in the book of John.

So Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem in a rather humbly triumphant manner and has gone into the Temple and cleansed it, driving out all of the people that were in there buying and selling, cheating many for the sake of religion.  The religious leaders did not like this so they devised a way to trap Jesus by “asking” Him a question.  Their motive?  To try and trap Jesus publicly so that they could “de-frock” Him and thus remove Him from prominence.  There is an even deeper goal here I think, and its one that we often share with these religious leaders.  This goal is also one that is shared by those that are not believers, in order to trick Christians into saying specific things.  What is this goal?  They want to be right… or at the very least for Jesus to be wrong.  They want to catch Jesus to prove that the way they believe is correct.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t do that at all.”  But I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we do this with God all the time.  Whether we read our Bibles or just go to worship on Sunday mornings, we want to know that what we are doing is good (or at the very least okay).  If we read in the Bible or hear the pastor say that we should not hate our brother because it is just like murdering our brother, do we not often say, “well its not exactly like murder” or “I don’t really hate them, I just strongly dislike them.”  We justify our actions as a way of making ourselves feel okay about the way we are living.  We don’t want to feel guilty and we certainly don’t want to change, so we justify ourselves in our own minds.

We often do this with pastors as well.  In come classes that I have taken at seminary, I have witnessed some of my peers try to justify their own beliefs in front of pastors and professors by twisting their words or tweaking their statements so that they will be okay with what is being said.  In the same way, I have seen people go to their pastor and even had people come to be that try to justify their sinful actions by talking about how the context of a particular passage clearly means that what they did in the present is not what the Bible meant.  What they want to hear is that their sinful actions, their way of believing is good enough… what they want is cheap discipleship… cheap faith.

I think the greater world does this a lot too, posing questions like the ones Jesus is asked to the Church in an effort to somehow get a religious pass for immoral or unjust action.  To be honest, I think that the Church has long been silent about a lot of things, refusing to answer and thus affirming the direction that culture is going.  Sure we speak up every now and then on hot-button issues, but do we really care about the deep day-to-day living of those around us?  Do we really want to stand idly by while our friends and neighbors plunge deeper into darkness?  We need to have an answer for these questions… we need to have an answer for the culture.

What is Jesus’ answer here?  Well, He turns the question on its head and throws it back at the religious leaders.  He is well aware of their intent and traps them in their trap.  However, earlier and later in His ministry, even in our reading today, Jesus references time and again the words of Scripture in His answers.  Jesus doesn’t need to come up with a new and creative answer for the time because He has the Word of God inside of Him.  It is close to His heart and deep in His mind and at any time He can pull it out at any time.  Not just His favorite verses that have little meaning, but all of Scripture at all times.  Are we familiar with the Word of God in this way?  Do we have answers for the questions that the world poses to us?  Do we have answers to the simple questions?  Can we back them up with Scripture?  Are these words truly our life, as Moses says to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy, or are they just idle words that pass in and out of our ears.  We need to recover the Word of God in our hearts and on our minds that we may answer the questions for ourselves and for others!



Day 303: Luke 17-18; The Cost of Discipleship

As we come to the Word of God today, I would like you to take a moment to reread this section from yesterday’s reading in Luke 14:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,  “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.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

In the midst of all the healing and teaching that is taking place, Jesus takes time to talk about what it means to follow Him.  The passage we just read from yesterday, Luke 14:25-33, we see Jesus is addressing the crowds that come to hear Him teach.  Word has spread around the countryside that Jesus was a great speaker and healed people.  Everyone was flocking to hear and see Him; much like some of the celebrity pastors and speakers that we have in our own Christian faith (but without the God being man factor).  Today we see Him address a rich man, an individual who seems to have all the right motivations and wants to sign on to this discipleship thing:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”  And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Here Jesus is addressing much the same thing.  First we had a whole lot of people who were “following” Jesus, wanting to hear His speak and be inspired by His teaching.  Now we have a wealthy young man who has says that He has lived a good life, keeping to all of the laws that were laid out for the people of Israel.  In both cases, Jesus lays out what it means to truly follow Him and, at least in the case of the rich young rule, that cost seems a bit too high for him.

So what is the cost of discipleship?  Well, too often we talk about how Jesus tells the man that he has to sell everything and give it all away in order to follow him.  While I don’t think that this is a call for us to live without a house, job or means of providing for ourselves, for indeed these things are a gift of God as His way of providing for our needs, Jesus is talking about the priority that these things need to take in our lives for us to be followers of Him.  At other times Jesus has said that someone “cannot serve two masters,” yet another example of priority and orientation in our lives.  What Jesus is truly saying here is that the cost of discipleship is our very lives.

What metaphor does Jesus use to talk about discipleship in Luke 14?  The cross.  We need to take up our cross.  Later on in the New Testament Paul picks up this idea talking about how we need to die to ourselves (the desires of our flesh) so that we may rise again in Christ.  We see this theme come up in baptism, salvation, and the Christian life over and over again in Scripture.  The cost of discipleship is our lives.  Not physically giving up our lives, but as Paul writes in Romans 12,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Eugene Peterson describes discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.”  I think this is a very apt description that goes well with what Jesus has to say here.  In our current cultural context, with the mega church movement in full swing, we see people flocking to these large churches to hear really good speakers.  Now, I believe that good ministry takes place in churches like Mars Hill and Willow Creek just as they do in many small churches.  I also think bad ministry takes place in these places (as it does in smaller churches too).  People come to hear the newest, the latest and greatest… or perhaps the go because they have always gone and just need to check their Sunday worship of their “spiritual checklist.”  This can happen in either church.  The problem and the fact of the matter however, is that this is not the discipleship that He had described here.  Going in and out of Sunday morning worship is not what Christ has called us to, it is not the whole of our Spiritual lives.  If it is… we aren’t doing it right.  We are called to something greater, to take up our cross, to a long obedience in the same direction… and to help bring others along with us as well!