Conclusion: The Supremacy of Jesus

Superheroes

Let me admit right at the beginning of this conclusion, that I’m a superhero movie nerd of the highest order. I try to see every new superhero movie when it comes out at the theatre. And when it finally gets to the small screen, well I watch it then too, more times than I care to say in public.

One of the themes often explored in these movies is the connection between power and authority. These superheroes have supernatural powers after all, but the question has continued to be asked: Should they use them?

Other versions of that question are: By what right or authority are they using them? Are they authorized to do so? Who are they answerable to when things go wrong? And what standard of right and wrong is being applied in their decision-making processes.

Capernaum

The Scripture we will look at in these concluding remarks about Jesus focuses on this interrelationship between power and authority as well. This “showdown in Capernaum” we find in Mark 1:21-28, will reveal to us that Jesus has both, power and authority.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Earlier in Mark 1, Jesus had called his first disciples to follow him. Jesus had left Nazareth and was now using Capernaum as his homebase. Capernaum was a fairly large town. It was a thriving, even wealthy area because it was near a popular trade route. In fact, it was the headquarters for many Roman troops.

And while it was primarily occupied by Jews, because of its location and success as a thriving town, there were many pagan influences there as well.

The Visiting Teacher

As verse 21 indicates, Jesus was visiting the local synagogue to teach. This would not have been unusual. The Temple in Jerusalem would have been too far away for most Jews to travel to, so synagogues popped up all over the Roman Empire, as places of learning and worship.

And because no synagogue had only one particular teacher, the leading elder often invited visiting teachers to come and teach the community. This was normal.

In this case it was Jesus who was invited to teach. We don’t know exactly how long Jesus had been in Capernaum, but presumably it had been long enough for folks to get to know him well enough to extend this invitation.

Unlike Matthew’s Gospel, we don’t know what Jesus had been teaching here. But I think an educated guess would be that he was teaching about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Earlier in Mark 1, we read these words,

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

Jesus’ Authority

Whatever Jesus had been teaching, verse 22 tells us he amazed his listeners “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” What does that mean? Well, it was very common for the scribes, who were the learned Jewish scholars of that day, to cite their tradition and the great Jewish teachers of former days.

However, Jesus did not do that. He spoke as one who had his own authority. He never said, “Rabbi Hillel said this…” “Or Rabbi Shammai said that…” He taught as one whose words were self-authenticating. He did not need to appeal to other human teachers because, we know, he was sent by God himself.

Indeed, Jesus was more than a prophet sent by God, he was God in the flesh – the very Son of God. There was (and is) no higher authority.

Impure Spirit

Oddly enough there was a demon-possessed member of the synagogue who had been in attendance while Jesus was teaching. In verses 23-24, we read…

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Isn’t it interesting that the demons Jesus dealt with always seemed to recognize his true identity, just as we find here?

The demon asked Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” “Us” – plural. That may have meant there was more than one impure spirit, or demon, inside the man. Or it may have meant, “Have you come to vanquish all demons?”

The answer was ultimately “Yes,” to both. Jesus did come to defeat the devil, and all his junior minions.  

The Showdown

I do not know if you believe in the devil and demons, but Jesus certainly did, and we find him encountering one here in our Scripture. The demon knew who Jesus the man was – “Jesus of Nazareth.” But he also knew the deeper identity of Jesus. That Jesus was no mere man, he was, “the Holy One of God.”

There was an ancient idea in that day that believed that speaking the name of a spiritual enemy would give one mastery over it. Thus, this was not merely a case of the demon rightly identifying Jesus, and certainly not paying Jesus a compliment.

No, this was a very scared demon trying to gain the upper hand over Jesus. It didn’t work. Jesus quickly responded in verse 25 – “Be quiet!”

“Be quiet” was really, “be muzzled” or “shut up.” Jesus knew what the demon was up to. He also knew if the people realized too early who he was, they may try to make him a political or military leader, and as we’ve learned throughout this study, that was not why Jesus came.

And so, Jesus said with great force, “Come out of him!” The demon had no choice but to leave the man. He didn’t have the power or authority to resist Jesus’ command. Yet he let his displeasure be known with a shriek and scream that shook the man violently as he left him.

The Why Behind the What

Jesus performed miracles to teach spiritual truths, not for entertainment. He often did miracles to authenticate his teachings, which were usually about himself – who he was and why he came. That helps us understand why Jesus delivered people from impure spirits.

Do you remember when Jesus healed the paralyzed man who had been lowered from the roof by his friends to where Jesus was? Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven. The religious leaders were furious because only God can forgive sins.

Therefore, Jesus said to them, “so that you may know I can forgive sins, I’m going to heal this man.” The miracle was performed to point to something greater, in this case, his true identity.

In a similar way, Jesus cast out this demon to let the people know they needed to really pay attention to what he had to say. Because if he had the power and authority to cast out demons, then he was someone to be reckoned with.

The People Understood

The people understood this. They asked things like, “Who is this teacher from Nazareth?” “What is he saying about himself and why he has come?” He wasn’t like any teacher they had ever heard. Why, he could even cast out demons. He was different from the rest. How did they respond?

Verse 28 says,

News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

As one person put it, “the proclaimer became the proclaimed.” Word about Jesus spread quickly.

So What?

So, what does all this mean for us 2,000 years later? As I poured over Scripture and other resources for this study, I was continually amazed. At the end of one of my study sessions I wrote down these words,

“There is no one else like Jesus! You have never met, nor will you ever meet, anyone like Jesus!”

I was in awe. Truly.

Jesus has the ability to vanquish powers and principalities, temptation and sin, bondage and alienation, and to set the captives free. He created and sustains the very existence of the universe with his word. He has complete power and authority over life and death. I know we crave application in our books and Bible studies. We want to know how to put into practice the biblical principles we read about. It is good and right for us to want that.

But sometimes the application is simply this: To be in awe of this Jesus. To bow in worship before him because of who he is and what he’s graciously done on our behalf. He is the Holy One of God. He delivers people from their sin and bondage. He makes people whole and holy. He saves to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).

And he can do that for you too because he, as God in the flesh, has both the authority and power to do so.

All Authority

As we saw several times throughout our study, Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. That means he is the Lord over the supernatural and the natural. He has power and authority over every sphere of life.

This ought to make every follower of Jesus Christ breathe a sigh of comfort. This ought to compel every person who knows, loves, and follows Jesus to cry out in joyful thanksgiving: “This is our Savior! This is our Lord! He is the Holy One of God!”

Therefore, give Jesus every fear, worry, sin, temptation, decision, desire – and everything else. He is the Holy One of God who became one of us because he loves us. And he therefore calls us to learn more about who he is, why he came, and what he taught. He calls us to love him more – with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And he calls us to live for him by following him in every sphere of our lives.

And when people see the difference Jesus has made in your life, word will spread quickly about him, and others will want to know this Jesus too.

Deo Gratias. Thanks be to God.

Amen.

(Click here to buy my book & Bible Study, Lord of All.)

Practical Atheism

Romans 1:21 -For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Militant Atheism

Much has been made over the last few years regarding the emergence of militant atheism’s evangelistic crusade to rid the world of ignorance. Specifically, these crusaders want to enlighten the minds of the masses who still believe God exists. For these spokesmen for atheism, belief in God is intellectually unsustainable and should by all means be abandoned. Not only that, these atheistic evangelists believe a person’s commitment to belief in God is actually harmful to children as well as to civilization as a whole.

Thankfully, their charges have been sufficiently answered at every turn by faithful Christian apologists. The atheists are getting all the press, but their arguments are unable to stand up to the Light of Truth.

A More Dangerous Breed of Atheism

Yet there is a more prevalent form of atheism that lurks in our land. Indeed, it can even be found in the church. It is what Cornelius Van Til called, “practical atheism.” A practical atheist is a person who professes to believe in God, and yet the God whose existence is professed does not seem to make any meaningful difference in that person’s daily life. His beliefs, values, morals, and actions are not prioritized by his supposed belief in God’s existence. Put another way: If this person was to wake up one day and decide he no longer believed in the existence of God, his life would change very little. This is practical atheism.

In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the person who has suppressed the truth he knows about God. Paul says that, in truth, all people know God exists. In fact, they even know things about his power and majesty. Yet, in order to maintain a certain way of living, they alter their belief system to accommodate their lifestyle. Like the hard atheist who formally declares there is no God, practical atheists deny God by the way in which they live their lives. Paul teaches us that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”

God at the Center

We glorify God when we seek to live purposefully and intentionally for him each day. We glorify God when we live to please, honor, obey, love, represent, bear witness to, and imitate him. That’s what a God-glorifying, God-informed life looks like. It’s also a life that is grateful to God for his goodness. This is more than tossing out a “thank you” every now and then at the beginning of a meal. Instead, it’s more of an all-encompassing attitude of gratitude. It becomes pervasive in one’s personality. This attitude glorifies God because it exalts God as the One who is worthy of such affection and appreciation.

How are you doing with this? Are you seeking to glorify God and be thankful to him in all things? Of course, none of us is perfect at this. We can all get fairly self-absorbed and self-centered in the goings on of our lives. We all, from time to time, become too preoccupied with lesser interests.

Yet the One who should be our greatest interest has told us we are to have no other gods before him. We are called to seek him first and foremost. We are instructed and encouraged to be holy because God is holy. His existence, in other words, should play a profound role in the lives of those who profess to believe in and follow him. He should be our ultimate influence and his influence should saturate every sphere of our lives, for his glory and our good.

Walking Points

  • What are some of the ways you have observed people “suppressing the truth they know about God.” Why do you think they do so?
  • Have you found yourself doing the same – living throughout the day, making decisions, and behaving with little or no reference to God?
  • What are some ways you can more intentionally live for God each day?
  • Talk to a trusted Christian friend about this devotion, brainstorm together, and then hold one another accountable.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, the whole of creation testifies to your existence. It’s truly amazing what we have to go through to deny that you are there and are not silent. And yet, you are the God who is not to be merely believed in. Instead, you are the Triune, personal God who calls us into a relationship with yourself. You first loved us, not because we were so good, but because you are. You are our loving Father who is worthy of our love and devotion. Indeed, to know and love you is to seek to become increasingly like you and obey your commands. In my own strength I will fall short of this. Therefore, loving Father, I humbly ask you to please fill me with your Holy Spirit and spur me on to greater and greater love for you. And, I pray, this love for you will influence every sphere of my life so that, one day, my whole life will be a shining testimony of your glory. In Christ I pray. Amen.

The World or the Word

James 3:13-18

Default or Discipline

We are going to take a look at two kinds of wisdom and two sources of wisdom. There’s a quotation I first heard from Ken Boa that I think will help us think through this together.

“The world will define you by default; but the Word will define you by discipline.”

In other words, be passive… do nothing… and the world will lead you, tell you who you are and what you value. But the Word will only do that through disciplined reading, meditation, and study. That seems to be the consensus of the biblical writers and church history.

James

Since our Scripture is from the Book of James, let me first tell you a little about James. The Book of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because it contains a lot of wisdom sayings, like Proverbs. It’s not a narrative. Instead, it is a general letter written somewhere between 40-60 AD, mainly to the Jewish Christians who had to leave Israel and were “scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). These were Christians who were experiencing persecution and suffering from both Rome and the Jews.

The author, James, was the brother of Jesus. James didn’t start off following Jesus. He didn’t believe. But some time after the resurrection not only did he believe in and follow Jesus, but he became one of the key leaders in the Jerusalem Church.

It was after the death of Stephen in the Book of Acts that many of the Jewish Christians had to flee Jerusalem because of the increased persecution. Thus, James would have known many of the names and faces of the people to whom he wrote, and they certainly would have been glad to hear from him.

That is also why James addresses suffering, since these Jewish Christians were going through so much of it. But he also addressed other themes such as faith and works, the words we say to others, and wisdom, to name a few.

What Wisdom Is Not

I find I pray for wisdom more consistently than almost anything else I pray about. I often find I’m in short supply of it. Can you relate to that?

But what is wisdom?

I grew up reading stories or watching movies where a person had to climb up a great mountain to find a  wise guru sitting at the top of it, someone who could tell the seeker the meaning of life.

Or, maybe when thinking of a wise person we think of someone like Gandalf, the wizard from The Lord of the Rings. Even the word, “wizard,” is derived from the word “wise,” and so it means “wise one” or “teacher.” And so, we might think that a wise person has to wear a long flowing robe and walk with a staff… and don’t forget about the long beard.

Even the philosophers of Greece argued over who the real philosophers (lovers of wisdom) were versus the ones who were merely playing a part to gain a following.

Or maybe when you hear the word “wise” you think of the smartest person you know. A person who knows a lot of information. Someone who would easily win Jeopardy.

What Wisdom Is

Well, none of those ideas really capture, what James means when he writes on wisdom. Biblically speaking, wisdom is much more concerned about and connected to our character and daily living. And that’s the point James is making in our Scripture. In verse 13, James writes,

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (emphasis mine)

The Hebrew meaning of wisdom could be defined this way: “skill in the art of living.” It has to do with application. In other words, wisdom must show up in how a person lives their life.

Furthermore, biblical wisdom is always connected to humility because it’s a gift. It is not something you were able to come up with on your own. James is saying heavenly wisdom is not self-serving and arrogant. Instead, it’s a gift that should glorify God and bless others. It’s a gift that shows our daily dependence upon the Giver of the gift.

Therefore, it should impact the way we live each day – how and what we say, do, think, and desire.

Worldly Wisdom

But James says worldly wisdom emerges when we live without reference to God and his Kingdom. Such wisdom is not informed by God’s will and ways. With such wisdom, God is not the one who influences one’s perspective.

James cautions us by saying this kind of wisdom leads to bitter envy and selfish ambition, which, according to James, creates disorder and evil practices (v. 16). James says worldly wisdom is earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic (v. 15).

The Father of Worldly Wisdom

In a Bible Study I teach on the Old Testament, we recently studied Genesis 3. Read the following exchange between the serpent and Eve from that chapter.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-4) (emphasis mine)

This earthly, unspiritual, and definitely demonic wisdom came from the father of lies (John 8:44). It was meant to create division, disorder, and depravity. It took Adam and Eve’s eyes off of their loving and gracious Creator who had already created them in his image and had provided for their every need.

But the serpent’s “wisdom” was to call God’s Word into question and cast doubt in their minds as to whether God was trustworthy and had their best interest at heart.

Unfortunately, the lie worked and we’ve been dealing with it ever since.

The Liar Versus Jesus

That same kind of wisdom was offered on another occasion. Recall this conversation in Matthew 4.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted v by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:1-11)

This tempter, this father of lies, tried to tempt our Lord. He even quoted Scripture.

Yet as he did with Adam and Eve, the liar was only offering Jesus what already belonged to Jesus. Moreover, he offered something that wasn’t his to give. Perhaps worst of all, he was trying to tempt Jesus with what sounded like an easier way to have it all… no suffering… no Cross.

Just rebellion and betrayal to his heavenly Father.

But Jesus wasn’t just smart, though he was. And he didn’t just know a lot, though he did. He was wise. In fact, the Apostle Paul calls Jesus the very wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24. And Jesus knew who he was. He had nothing to prove. He had nothing to gain. The devil twisted and manipulated Scripture to deceive and tempt Jesus. But Jesus responded with the correct interpretation and application of Scripture. That’s wisdom.

Because Jesus did not “live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), he was prepared for that moment.

The Fruit of Wisdom

We live in an upside-down world where many of the beliefs and values we hold dear run counter to much of the world around us. We see that when we look at the virtues listed in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 or the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

The fruit of God’s wisdom we find listed in James 3 looks a lot like those two lists.  James writes,

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

A life that bears this fruit is the good life according to James 3:13. Such a good life is made up of godly character and good deeds done in the humility that flows from godly wisdom.

Don’t you want to live that good life – not the good life that’s often portrayed in our ambient culture, but the good life James describes? I sure do. But when I’m thinking, speaking, and acting unwisely – or according to worldly wisdom – I experience the discord and disorder James warns us about.

Every Word of God

On the other hand, when I’m saturating myself in the Word of God and walking in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit I feel aligned with God’s will. It’s that very point the Apostle Paul addressed with these words in Romans 12:2.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I want to be aligned with God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. I want to have and live a transformed life. But to do so I need to renew my mind daily. I must soak in the wisdom of God. That’s true for all of us.

When I’m tempted by the world, the flesh, or the devil, I want to have the wisdom Jesus had when he was tempted. I want to think, speak, act, and desire what glorifies God. But to go back to the quotation from the beginning, if I don’t discipline myself to be a student of God’s Word, then I’ll end up drifting down the stream of the world by default.

Fellowship of the Word

I praise God we have so many opportunities at the church I serve to be people of the Word together. To be sure, we ought to be reading and studying Scripture on our own. But that value and impact is exponentially multiplied when we gather in fellowship with other Christians. We grow when we talk about what we’ve read and how that wisdom can mold us, shape us, and align us more and more to God’s will.

In Ephesians 1:17, Paul told the Church at Ephesus that he prayed they would be given the Spirit of wisdom (Ephesians 1:17). By the Spirit’s wisdom and power we’re able to know God better and grow in the wisdom James is talking about and bear its good fruit.

That is my prayer for you too.

Thanks be to God.

Living Wisely

Living Wisely

Autopilot

Have you ever caught yourself cruising through life, somewhere between autopilot and sleeping at the wheel? “Wise” would not be a word we would use to describe ourselves during those lapses of intentional living. The Apostle Paul addresses this very thing in Ephesians 5.

Earlier in Ephesians, Paul dealt with how those who claim to love and follow Christ ought to live. He wrote,

Ephesians 4:1 – …I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Ephesians 5:1 – Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children

Ephesians 5:8, 10 – For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… [10] and find out what pleases the Lord. (Emphases Added)

On Purpose Living

Paul taught clearly in those verses that there’s nothing casual or accidental about living the Christian life. It takes purpose, commitment, and intentionality. In light of those verses, let’s take a deeper look at how Paul described this lifestyle in Ephesians 5. In verse 15, Paul wrote,

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,

How are you doing on that count? Does that verse describe how you live on any given day? Perhaps it does portray many areas of your life. But how about your faith? Are you “very careful” in how you walk with Christ?

I’ve discovered something about myself. I’ve noticed when I “don’t have time” to spend in prayer or in reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word in the morning, I’m usually not very “careful” in how I live throughout the rest of the day. 1 Peter 5:8 says,

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

When I’m not being careful in my walk with Christ, I become a sitting duck for the devil to devour. It becomes much easier for me to fall prey to the temptations in my life. That doesn’t mean God has abandoned me. Yet it does indicate I’m not prepared for what the day may bring. It’s as though I’m choosing not to wear the full armor of God. I would never say that was my motivation, but that’s the result.

The word “careful” in our text means “accurate and exact.” It carries the idea of closely examining or investigating something. In this case, Paul is talking about our “walk” with Christ or living the Christian life.

Learn from Poor Pilgrim

My favorite book, outside of the Bible, is Pilgrim’s Progress. The first part of the story tells us about a man who discovered his great need for Christ and how he came to faith. However, most of the book focuses on the pilgrim’s pursuit to live the Christian life after he came to Christ.

Chapter after chapter reveals to us through the pilgrim’s journey what happens when he’s not being “careful in how he lives.” We watch helplessly as he makes mistakes, takes wrong roads, listens to bad advice, and often ends up in gut-wrenching predicaments.

Friends, we shouldn’t laugh at the poor pilgrim because his experience is ours. Through the smallness of our daily surrenders to sin and temptation, we too veer off the road, on one side or the other, and end up miles from where we should be.

When we do such things, we reveal we’re not “being careful in how we live.”

Where We Find Wisdom

Paul next provides substance to what “being careful” as Christians looks like. At the end of Ephesians 5:15 he writes, Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,

This verse is tied to verse 17, which says,

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

If you want to be wise, you need to understand what the Lord’s will is, and then do it.

Paul’s exhortation to “be careful” by being wise and not foolish is not an ivory tower academic or intellectual exercise. The word “wisdom” in Scripture means “skill for living.” We discover and acquire this skill as we understand what the Lord’s will is and, in his power, obey it.

If you don’t know what pleases or displeases God, then it is awfully hard to please God. God isn’t glorified by our ignorance and foolishness. We show we’re wise when we understand what God’s will is. And once we understand it, we then must do it.

Listen to God

Romans 12:2 explains how we can learn that. Observe these words,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

A good question here would be: How do we renew our minds? One key way is to regularly read, study, and meditate upon God’s Word. So often in prayer we want to do all the talking. We essentially say things like, “Dear God, here’s my list of things I need you to give me or fix for me. Amen.” That’s often what our prayers sound like.

There is certainly a place for bringing God our needs. Of course there is. But a transformed life and renewed mind happen as we listen to God. And we listen to God as we interact with his Word, whether it’s in private devotions, worship on the Lord’s Day, or in a Bible study with a smaller group of believers. I’m able to pray much more effectively when I know what God’s will is, when I know what pleases him and brings glory to his name.

Living wisely, the way Paul has in mind, takes place once we consider what God has said on a particular subject and then act on it. That’s what it means to “be careful” and to “live wisely.” We’re called to be very careful in how we live. We’re called to be wise and not unwise. And we become wise as we understand what the Lord’s will is and then do it.

Walking Points

  • What are the areas of your life in which you’re living most carefully?
  • What are you doing in those areas that help you live wisely?
  • What are the areas of your life in which you are living least carefully?
  • What seems to be the main obstacle that is keeping you from living more faithfully in those areas?
  • Are you living carefully, wisely, and intentionally in the area of your faith?
  • What are two things you could do to help you grow wiser and more careful as a Christian? Come up with a plan and ask two friends to hold you accountable to it.

Prayer

All-wise God, the world looks at your wisdom and calls it foolishness. It looks at what you call foolishness and declares it wisdom. What an upside-down world we live in. I am grateful you have graciously spoken to us and given us light in such a dark world. Thank you for giving us all the treasures of knowledge in and through your Son, Jesus Christ. Please direct and empower me by your Spirit to regularly renew my mind so I may know your good, perfect, and pleasing will. And I pray, O Lord, that you enable me to obey your will so that my life will become aligned with your Kingdom. In the name of the One who is wisdom incarnate. Amen.

The Way of Love

The Way of Love

What the World Needs Now

In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. If you know it, it will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. It was called, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” It was true in 1965… and it’s perhaps even more true today, especially in our politically polarized country.

Love has been a topic of stories, poems, songs for centuries. Again, going back to the 1960s, an obscure band from Liverpool, England sang quite a few songs about love. Here are a few of their titles,

  • All My Loving
  • And I Love Her
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • I’m In Love
  • Love Me Do
  • Love of the Loved
  • Love You Too
  • PS I Love You
  • Real Love
  • She Loves You
  • Step Inside Love
  • Words of Love

And, in the same spirit as Jackie DeShannon’s song…

  • All You Need is Love

Well, what the world does need today… is love. But I wonder if we know what we’re saying when we say that. I wonder if we have a firm grasp on the subject when we use popular slogans such as, “love is love” or “love everyone, always.”

Not An Abstraction

You see, Christian love, biblically understood, is anything but abstract. It’s a way of life. It not a mere feeling or emotion, it’s an act of the will. I almost called this devotion, “The Shape of Love,” because love, biblically understood, looks like something. There’s a shape to it.

It can’t be reduced to an abstraction or slogan. And this kind of love is hard. It takes practice because it is a way of life. It is a mindset.

The Great Commandment

Jesus emphasized the priority of love for his followers, indeed for every person, when he gave us the Great Commandment. In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked by an expert in the law, which of the commandments was the greatest. He was trying to test Jesus. But Jesus, being the smartest human to ever live, didn’t take the bait.

Jesus summarized all ten of the commandments by saying these words in Matthew 22:37-40,

37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ i 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ j 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

You see, love is the greatest commandment. Love is the purpose of all the commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. And that love looks like something.

What does it look like? It looks like…

  1. Having no other gods before the Lord our God.
  2. Not making idols
  3. Not taking the name of our God in vain
  4. Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy
  5. Honoring your father and mother
  6. Not murdering
  7. Not committing adultery
  8. Not stealing
  9. Not bearing false witness against our neighbor
  10. Not coveting.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments by saying we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all that we are. And we’re to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

The Real Meaning of the Commandments

But what do we often do? Well, a lot of times, instead of trying to dig into those commandments to better understand them so we can more faithfully live them out, we oversimplify them and say, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone today or robbed a bank, so I must be ok.”

But then Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount and tells us that not murdering anyone is a good start. However, he says if we have unrighteous anger toward someone, we’ve murdered them in our hearts.

Jesus says, you may not have committed adultery, but if you have lusted after someone, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.

Jesus gives us eyes to see what the commandments really mean. And they mean a whole lot more than we usually give them credit for. Jesus also teaches us that the commandments aren’t merely negative prohibitions against things (“Thou shalt not”).

They also imply positive actions. To not murder means more than not taking someone’s life or hating them in your heart. It also means desiring the best good of others and helping them flourish. It’s to act with reverence toward all living things and to honor the sanctity of life.

That’s just one example of what it means to love God completely and love our neighbor. It’s a way of life and requires a sanctified mindset.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

And it’s immensely practical, not just theoretical. It’s the heart and soul of all who follow Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2,

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The ESV Bible version says we’re to “imitate God.” As God’s children who are dearly loved and forgiven by him, we’re called to imitate God. How? By walking in the way of love.

And Jesus, who is our ultimate model shows us what that love looks like. And the short answer is: it’s a sacrificial love. Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s sacrificial love. That’s real love. That’s Christian love.

But even there it would be fair to say, “that still sort of vague. What does it mean to love sacrificially?” And here the Apostle Paul is very helpful.

Paul’s Lists

Paul loved writing lists. And right before Ephesians 5:1-2, he gave us a list of what sacrificial love looks like when it’s practiced faithfully. And again, Paul is doing the same thing as Jesus by summarizing the Ten Commandments with practical examples. Here’s his list in Ephesians 4:25-32.

What does it mean to walk in the way of love? It means,

  • We must put off falsehood
  • We must speak truthfully to our neighbor
  • We must not sin in our anger
  • We must not steal but work so we can help those in need
  • We must not say unwholesome things (obscenity, slander, gossip, abusive language) (And I would say that includes writing it on social media.)
  • We must use our words to build up others according to their needs and for their benefit
  • We must get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander – and every form of malice
  • We must be kind, compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you

That’s what walking in the way of love looks like. Want another list? Paul has one for you in the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13. He said love,

  • Must be patient
  • Must be kind
  • Must not envy
  • Must not boast
  • Must not be proud
  • Must not dishonor others
  • Must not be self-seeking
  • Must not be easily angered
  • Must not keep a record of wrongs
  • Must not delight in evil
  • Must rejoice with the truth

That’s the way of love we’re called to walk in.

So, How Are You Doing?

So, how are y’all doing with all that? Are you faithfully walking in the way of love? Love, as the world understands it, is so much easier when it fits into the title of a song… or a bumper sticker… or a slogan.

But true Christian love is hard in real life.

The Gospel

But here is some good news for you. The good news is that we don’t have to love perfectly to be perfectly and completely loved by God. God has redeemed and reconciled us because he loves us, and when we put our trust in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we become new creatures.

God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and we become people who are able to walk in the way of love as Jesus and Paul and the rest of Scripture describe it. To be sure, we cannot walk in love without the continual power and guidance of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

But this way of love is what we are each called to. We do participate. God doesn’t do it for us. Furthermore, we won’t live this way by accident. Walking in the way of love takes practice. It’s takes conscious intentionality.

Conscious Intentionality

It’s why God has given his people what we call the means of grace. For example, God has given us his church, the fellowship of the saints, prayer, Scripture, worship, fasting, the sacraments, just to name a few. These are means by which we’re able to learn and grow so that we can walk in this way of love.

And the more we experience the true love of God the more we’ll want to love God and others the way we’ve been loved.

But we need a plan. Like a vine needs a trellis to guide it in the right, life-giving direction so it will bear fruit, we need an intentional way of life to help us bear fruit, to help us walk in the way of love.

Make A Plan

This Fall our church we’ll have lots of groups meeting to help you do just that. One of the experiences I’ll be leading is called, “Crafting a Rule of Life,” based on the book by Stephen Macchia. In it, we’ll spend time considering our own unique callings, gifts, temperaments, and seasons of life and how we can cultivate those aspects of who we are to help us become consciously intentional in walking in the way of love.

If you’re interested, I hope you’ll reach out and ask me more about it or look at our website and see all the different offerings we have coming up in the Fall. Each of them will help you learn and grow as a follower of Christ so you can walk in the way of love.

What the world needs now… is love. That’s absolutely true. But the world needs the love of God. And the world needs followers of Jesus Christ who not only love God, but who love others as they have been loved by God.

Thanks be to God.

Why Return to Worldly Ways?

Galatians 4:9 – But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

A Change of Address

When we lived in darkness – when we were of the world – it made perfect sense that we lived as the world lived. We were a part of its system. You might say it was the very air we breathed.

But when we were delivered from that bondage, ignorance, and darkness, we were made into something new. Paul described us as new creations. To paraphrase the Apostle elsewhere,

“When I was a worldling, I talked like a worldling, I thought like a worldling, I reasoned like a worldling. When I became a new creature in Christ, I put worldish ways behind me.”

It is therefore sad to observe how the Apostle had to address the Galatian believers and ask them why they were turning back to their old, dead ways.

It’s difficult to admit how shortsighted we can be on a daily basis. If we don’t keep Christ daily before us, pursuing him with all God’s grace and our might, we inevitably find ourselves drifting back to the world and its ways of thinking. And such worldish thinking will soon lead to worldish living. What’s so frightening about this process is that even as it happens, we don’t seem aware that we are becoming enslaved to those “weak and miserable principles” all over again.

Why Do We Do This?

The question is indicting: Why would we ever want to go back to such thinking and living once we have been freed from it? Why do we seem to prefer bondage to freedom at times? It’s almost comical how we, like the Israelites, begin romanticizing how great the leeks and onions were in Egypt and forget about the fact that we were slaves there. Why do we do this?

There are probably many good answers. No believer, I hope, truly thinks the world is preferable to the things of God. I don’t think being out of shape is preferable to being healthy. But one skipped workout at a time – over a period of undisciplined living – and a person will find himself or herself struggling to walk up a flight of stairs. That was never the intention, but it was the consequence.

Similarly, a little disobedience and sloth here and there and one day a person will wake up terribly out of shape for the Kingdom. In truth, they will be downright unfit for it.

I’ve discovered in my own life that I tend to do the things I want to do. It’s no more complicated than that. I may dress it up in elaborate excuses and rationalizations, but at the end of the day that’s all they are. Can you relate to that?

Don’t Ignore God’s Means of Grace

Thankfully, those who are genuinely in Christ will not be able to return to their old ways without feeling the disciplinary rod of the Holy Spirit. God is not content to watch his children become remolded in the world’s image.

By God’s magnificent grace, the smoke detector goes off long before the fire blazes out of control. God awakens and disciplines those who are his own and gets them/us back on track again. But even here he does not “do” all the work for us. We can still choose to sleep in instead of pray and study. We can play instead of worship on Sunday mornings. Fill in the blank with those temptations that continue to call you back to your old life. We will have those choices ever before us.

But if you cry out to your loving Father for help, his grace will abound once more to rescue you from your chains. And if you rely on him daily and practice those things he promised will make you spiritually healthy, you may find you have to be rescued less often.

Walking Points

  • Do you ever find yourself moving back to the world’s ways of thinking and living?
  • What do you think are the primary reasons you do so?
  • Have you ever wandered back so deeply into slavery to sin that you thought you were beyond rescue? How did you escape?
  • What are two or three ways you can protect yourself from becoming enslaved to the “weak and miserable principles” of the world in the future?
  • Talk about your answers with a trusted Christian brother and pray for one another.

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Prayer

Loving Father, you have redeemed me and adopted me into your family. You desire that I imitate you in my daily life. But all too often I feel the pull of my old life, the lure of sinful desire. Those weak and miserable principles seemingly cast a spell on me. Show me how awful, ugly, and untrue they really are and how they will only entrap and enslave me to a horrible bondage. Please let me see how wicked they really are before I give myself to them. Enable me by your grace to grow in grace. Control me with your Spirit so that I will both desire to, and be able to, live fully for you. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.

Faithful Discipleship

Southside’s Mission

Before I arrived at the church I presently serve, a vision committee was formed to prayerfully study, discuss, and articulate our church’s mission. They were then tasked with writing a mission statement based on their effort. The statement declared Southside United Methodist Church’s mission was to,

Build the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.

The committee also wanted to make sure Southside was not just another church with just another mission statement. They wanted to make the mission statement an ongoing reality. With that in mind, the church put together a search committee assigned with the purpose of finding someone whose ministry would focus on helping to build the family of God at Southside into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In doing this they were showing how seriously they took the familiar words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, what we call the Great Commission. There Jesus said,

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

By God’s grace, at least from my perspective, I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is vital to the life of Christ’s Church. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to serve with the congregation at Southside.

Making Disciples

Can any church faithfully live out its calling and mission if making disciples of Jesus Christ is not a priority? That question raises an even more fundamental question: What exactly is a disciple? After all, you can be a disciple of practically anything or anyone. Therefore, what defines a disciple of Jesus Christ is the question before us.

To help us unpack what a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ looks like, we’re going to take a look at Matthew 7:24-27.

The Sermon

Our text comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For three chapters Jesus taught what has sometimes been called, “The norms of the Kingdom.” In these three chapters our Lord focused on what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.  

Jesus concluded his remarks in the Sermon by saying in Matthew 7:24,

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”

What “words” was he talking about? He was referring to the words he had been preaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Those “words” of Jesus are important in helping us understand what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

The message of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. But someone may well ask whether Jesus’ message can really be relevant to us, some 2,000 years later. Here is a small sampling of what Jesus taught in the Sermon, to help answer that question.

In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on:

  • Our character
  • God’s blessings
  • How to influence others
  • God’s Law
  • The righteousness God expects from us
  • Murder
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Reconciliation
  • Adultery
  • Lust
  • Divorce
  • Taking oaths
  • Truth telling
  • Revenge
  • Going the extra mile for another person
  • Loving your enemies
  • Giving to the needy
  • How to pray
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • How to fast
  • Humility
  • Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
  • Putting God first
  • Priorities
  • Worry
  • God’s provision for your family
  • God’s Kingdom
  • Judging others
  • Hypocrisy
  • Persistence in prayer
  • God’s goodness to his children
  • How to enter into heaven
  • True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
  • The right foundation for building your life

That is a pretty contemporary and relevant list.

A Tale of Two Builders

To bring his teaching to life and emphasize what it means to be a faithful disciple, Jesus told his listeners a story about two builders, one he called wise, and the other, foolish.

There is one part of this familiar story that may be easy to miss. In this story, Jesus was not comparing and contrasting a “Church-goer” from a “non-Church-goer.” He was not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian and an outspoken pagan who had never darkened the door of a church.

If that was the case, we might all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as if to say, “Whew, at least he’s not talking about me.”

In this parable Jesus focused his attention on two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, looked just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we might say both people went to church. Both could recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both could sing every verse of every hymn. And both sat and listened to every word of the sermon.

Jesus’ point was that both houses the builders built looked identical, with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place, in this case, on nothing but sand.

Put Into Practice

What does the foundation of each builder represent? Jesus said the foundation signifies the words Jesus taught. Both people heard Jesus. According to Jesus, what made a person wise or foolish was what he did with those words. Only one builder put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. However, he ignored them. Jesus called him foolish.

James, the brother of our Lord, must have paid attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. [23] Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror [24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [25] But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

The word to describe what Jesus was talking about is obedience. A faithful disciple is the follower of Jesus who hears his words and obeys them, puts them into practice. That is faithful discipleship.

This emphasis is found in the Old Testament as well. God gave the same message through his prophet, Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 33:31-32, we read,

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. [32] Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

God’s Word isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. A number of years ago the men’s ministry at my church studied a book entitled, Point Man by Steve Farrar. It focused on helping Christian men live as the godly husbands, fathers, workers, and churchmen God desires. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Farrar wrote,

“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”

He continued,

“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”

He concluded this thought with these words,

“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”

Information for Transformation

From ignorance to knowledge to obedience. That is an essential element to faithful discipleship. God does not want men to read or study the Bible purely for informational purposes, but for transformation. To be sure, we must know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ do not simply “collect” Bible-information so they can win Bible-trivia contests. They read and obey God’s Word so they can meet with God and be transformed by him.

My First Time with the Sermon

Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what I experienced when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. I felt so because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like,

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)

“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)

“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)

That’s just from the first half of chapter 5. It is those words, and others like them, that we are actually commanded to read, study, and put into practice. That is why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.

The Point of Those Words

And that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are meant to move us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus perfectly practiced those words. That is why he was the only acceptable sacrifice on our behalf.

We are saved only when we place our trust in Christ alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.

We must indeed strive to increasingly grow more obedient to God’s Word. It is how we glorify God and become more like Christ. Like the wise builder, we must build a strong foundation by putting our Lord’s words into practice.

Yet we do not obey Jesus in order to save ourselves by our own good works. Instead, a faithful disciple seeks to obey Jesus because he has already been saved by God’s grace. Our obedience, while required in a qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart.

That is how faithful disciples show Jesus and the world they love him. By obeying him, they will bear much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15,

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

And in John 14:21, our Lord taught,

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.

That is what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God who gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.

Walking Points

  • Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? If so, what did you think? What parts are you drawn to? What parts scare you?
  • What part is the hardest for you to put into practice? Why?
  • If you haven’t read it, take time now to do so. You will find it in Matthew 5-7. Ask God to reveal to you what it would look like in your life to obey what you’re reading. Then, ask for God’s Spirit to enable you to do so.