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Jesus, the Master Discipler

by Gordon Ferguson -- Dallas, Texas, USA 

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If you have the world's most important message and you want to get it to the most people, how do you do it? Jesus had that conviction, and he had that concern. However, most Bible readers make some very erroneous assumptions about the ministry methods of Jesus. For years I was one of those people. I was very impressed with the times the Master Teacher worked with large crowds. I thought about how great it was for him to have exercised such magnetism that he was able to attract thousands at one time. 

And yet, Jesus spoke to the crowds more as a means of training his apostles and other future evangelists (such as the seventy-two) than to "convert" the crowds. Of course, he was vitally interested in sharing God with those multitudes, but he wasn't naive enough to suppose that teaching in those large groups was going to really do the job of changing their lives. He realized that a more individualized approach was going to be necessary, and he was preparing some very special men to provide just that approach. 

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How We Learn Spiritual Truths

Most of what we learn in life is learned by OJT (on-the-job-training). We watch big brother tie his shoes, and then we imitate him. We watch Dad change the tire on the car, and we quickly know far more than if we had spent a couple of hours reading the manual. Becoming a carpenter is a process: a journeyman repeatedly shows an apprentice how to do carpentry. Just about everything we learn in the early years of our lives is learned in this manner, as is most of what we learn in the later years. It is the fastest and easiest way and in many cases the only way to learn. Nowhere is this principle more important than in learning spiritual truths. Discipling is all about learning from someone else as they are following Jesus. 

As we study the Scriptures, we see that there can be no "loner" Christians. We play an absolutely essential role in each other's lives. The gospel cannot be spread effectively without the human demonstration at the heart of it, nor can those who accept it be brought to maturity without those relationships (Matthew 28:19-20). 

The Bible alone is sufficient to reveal the content of the truth to man, but to grasp its power, we must read it both in black and white (pages) and in black, white, brown, red, and yellow (people). Can you see the point here? Discipleship has not been tried and found wanting; it has simply been found difficult and not often tried. However, when it is put into practice, lives change radically, and others are drawn to that magnet of visible change. Discipling works! And it is all that works! It was and is, without question, the plan of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. 

The Plan of the Master 

Years ago, when I was first learning about discipling, I read a very helpful little book entitled The Master Plan of Evangelism. Coleman shows quite conclusively that the Master's method was men, plainly and simply. He poured his life into men, especially the Twelve, and when he returned to heaven, he left them to evangelize the world. They very effectively carried out his mission because they followed the same plan of pouring their lives into the lives of others, who repeated the same process over and over and over. 

Christ's purpose was never to personally convert the masses, for in a physical body he was limited to one place at one time. However, through his spiritual body, the church, he could be everywhere at once. The masses are converted one by one. As I shared my faith yesterday with a young couple in a restaurant, disciples all over the world were doing the same. And as I slept last night, members of Jesus' body were carrying out his mission all over the world. Yes, the plan of Jesus was certainly the master plan! 

The basics of his plan were as follows. First, he called men to follow him (Mark 1:14-18). Second, he kept men with him in order to train them and later send them out to share his message (Mark 3:14). Third, the training process included practical assignments, for we truly learn and retain only that which we practice. Finally, Jesus gave his life for what he had taught. Until we have something worth dying for, we have nothing worth living for. 

After Jesus had been resurrected from the grave, he spent forty days preparing his trained men for the coming of the kingdom and the task of spreading it all over the world. He then ascended back to heaven, leaving these few ordinary men with the extraordinary task of being (not just preaching) Jesus to the world. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." Jesus' method was to pour his life into men, and once they were fully trained, they would be like him (Luke 6:40). Having been thus discipled, they were able to "go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). It was a simple plan with a high price tag of a tremendous personal investment in training individuals -- but it worked. It remains the same simple plan, and the price tag is just as high. No other plan has ever worked, can ever work, will ever work. We either do it this way, or we fail miserably. 


Reprinted from The Greater Houston Church Sunday Bulletin, January 21, 2018, No. 02


Photo credit: Carpenters: KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tech. Sgt. Kalon Pang and Master Sgt. Cindy Dickson, instructors assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, assemble a doorframe August 18, 2015, that will be used in a home building project. About a dozen military volunteers took part in the two-day Habitat for Humanity project here inside the organization's wood shop. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Mike R. Smith/Released)

 

The Teaching and Practice of Submission in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

by Cynthia P. Fetherman -- Denver, Colorado, USA

Introduction

"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."—Isaiah 64:8

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Perhaps no analogy best exemplifies the spirit of submission as the molding of clay under the hands of the potter.   In this paper, the teaching and practice of submission in the life and ministry of Jesus will be discussed.  Submission will encompass several other names:  obedience, subordination, allegiance, reverence, trust and self-denial.  Submission is at the heart of discipleship.  It acknowledges the lordship of Jesus over every aspect of life.  The concept of submission involves relinquishing one’s individual rights in favor of another.  It is only through complete submission that a follower of Jesus is able to open one’s heart so the Holy Spirit may be received and dwell in it.  Partial submission is not an option for one who calls Jesus Lord.

Submission, self-denial, obedience and any other name by which this spiritual discipline is called requires progression.  Spiritual formation will be viewed through transformation—from hard clay to a vessel fit for use under the guidance of God, the potter.  As clay goes through several steps, so does the individual who yearns for the inner transformation promised by the prophet Ezekiel:

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God." – Ezekiel 11:19-20

Upon reading this paper, I hope the reader walks away knowing that total submission is indispensable to the Christian walk.  The gift to be transformed from within is from God, as He gives the believer a new heart.  But the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission puts the believer on the path of making it possible to receive that gift.  Submission is not something obtained when someone becomes a Christian or a disciple of Jesus but a lifelong practice that paves the way for the transformation of the individual who is being changed from within-- from mere dust to a useful vessel under the hands of the Creator.  

The Teaching and Practice of Submission

"If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:34-35 (HCSB)

As a spiritual discipline, Thomas à Kempis (1955) defines submission as follows:  “…but if we desire that God be among us, we must sometimes set aside our own will (though it seem good) so that we may have love and peace with others” (p.40).

Submission is servanthood.  Submission is self-denial.  It is obedience and disregard of one’s own will in favor of another with the goal of establishing peace.  It is the pledge of allegiance to someone else.  It is the essence of discipleship to Jesus Christ.  

The word submission only occurs six times in the scriptures, yet underneath the entire story of the Bible lies the concept of submission.  The closest Hebrew root for reference is יָד yâd, (yawd), meaning “to give the hand, to pledge the fidelity of the giver.”  In the New Testament, the Greek root word of εὐλάβεια eulábeia, (yoo-lab'-i-ah), means, “reverence toward God, godly fear, piety.”  It is also used in the context of ὑποτάσσω hypotássō, (hoop-ot-as'-so), “to subordinate… be under obedience.”  Á Kempis (1955) notes:

"An old habit is not easily broken, and no man will readily be moved from his own will; but if you cling more to your own will or to your own reason than to the humble obedience of Jesus Christ, it will be long before you are a man illumined by grace" (p. 48).

Further, À Kempis (1955) speaks of Jesus’ example of obedience as:  

"I made Myself the humblest and lowest of all men, so that you would learn to overcome your pride through My humility.  Learn, therefore, you who are but ashes, to be humble for my sake; learn to break your own will and to be subject to all from the heart” (p.124).

I grew up playing with clay pots.  Not every girl in my neighborhood wanted a set.  But I did.  I remember my mother coming home one day with a clear, plastic bag in her hand filled with used newspaper.  I unwrapped them gently from the paper protecting them.  They were brown, clay pots, shiny from the glaze and painted with flowers.  They came with lids and a stove.  They were beautiful, a little girl’s treasured possession, and I showed them to anyone who would pay attention.  They eventually broke.  I outgrew them as I entered adolescence but the memories of playing with them are remembered fondly.  As I became a follower of Jesus later in life, my fascination of pottery was reignited as I read the scriptures.  Obedience to God is the ultimate act of submission.  As clay in the potter’s hands, we are to submit ourselves to the potter’s molding:

"Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" – Romans 9:21

Old Testament

From creation, God has laid before man the choice of submission—obedience or disobedience.  From the story of Adam and Eve to the nascent nation of Israel, submission has been presented as a choice between life and death.

"See, I Set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands… and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess." –Deuteronomy 30:13 (NIV)

From patriarchs to judges, kings to prophets, we see people called by God to submission.

Genesis 12:1-4—Abraham’s ready obedience testifies to his submissive spirit to God’s plans for him and his family

Judges 7:15—Gideon displays self-denial as he sets aside his fear and trusts in God’s deliverance

2 Samuel 7:18—David sets aside his plans and expresses gratitude for God’s guidance at a time in his life when he may be most tempted to assert his power as king over Israel and with the people favorably disposed towards his leadership

Isaiah 6:5-8—Isaiah surrenders to God’s plan for him despite his acknowledgement of his personal shortcomings

Jeremiah 1:4-10—Jeremiah submits to God’s appointment despite difficulty of his external circumstances

New Testament

In the New Testament, submission is practiced and taught by Jesus.  We see the radical call to submit to Jesus’ discipleship in John 12:24-26:

"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me."

"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."—Mark 9:35

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciple".-Luke 14:33

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."—Luke 9:23

More than teaching about submission, subordination, allegiance and self-denial, Jesus lived it to the point of sacrificing His own life:

“'Abba, Father,'” he said, 'everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.'”—Mark 14:36

"… Christ Jesus, 'who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!'” -Philippians 2:5-11

Submission is at the heart of discipleship to Jesus.  Beyond teaching about obedience, Jesus’ lifestyle was one of submission and obedience.

F.F. Bruce (1979) notes, 

"The person who enlisted in His cause, He taught, would need to deny himself (34), i.e. abandon the attitude of self-centeredness, and take up his cross, i.e. be prepared to face martyrdom, ….  He would have thus to be willing to lose his mortal life; and all this, for Christ’s sake and for the gospel (35), i.e. for the sake of spreading abroad the good news of the kingdom of God; for only in this way would he attain the true life, that of the age to come" (p. 1167).

"During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  And he learned obedience.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…."—Hebrews 5:7-8

We see the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission in:

John 1:30-John the Baptist makes way for Jesus and acknowledges Him as the Messiah spoken of by the prophets and awaited for by Israel.  Rather than keeping his band of followers, John the Baptist points them in Jesus’ direction.

John 3:30—John the Baptist tells his followers, “He must become greater.  I must become less.”

Mark 14:36-Jesus surrenders to God’s plan for His death and crucifixion.

Luke 23:46-Jesus surrenders His spirit to God on the cross.

Submission in the Gospels

It seems odd to pick the parable of the prodigal son to talk about submission, but the story has elements that highlight a lack of it—self-centeredness, a lack of regard for others, irreverence towards authority and allegiance to one’s interests alone.  Yet in the end, the story highlights the transformation which God is able to perform on the heart of one who takes the path of submission.

Jewish culture considered, "honoring your father and mother," a command of utmost importance.  The beginning of the parable sees this command violated as the younger son asks for his portion of the inheritance.  Moreover, Jesus’ audience was shaken from its cultural view of the younger son being the rightful heir (think: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, David and Joseph over their older brothers).  By highlighting the profligate ways of the younger son, Jesus’ audience is being asked to change their way of thinking.

As the younger son wastes away his inheritance, he reaches a point where his choice lands between starvation and going back to his father’s home, albeit in a different capacity.  His internal dialogue in vv. 17-19 shows that, while his previous actions may have been to cut off his family ties (vv. 12-13), in his time of need, he recognizes that he is still his father’s son (emphasizing the father-son relationship in vv. 17-19).  On his return journey, the son takes the path that would bring him home to his father.  The younger son recognizes the condition by which he must present himself before his father—unworthy, capable only of being a hired servant, a sinner who has dishonored and severed his allegiance to his family.  On this same path, the father meets the son and restores his position, regardless of how unworthy the son may be.  

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This story teaches us about the path—how the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission paves the way for God to meet us where we are transformed, not by anything we do but by how the Father treats us.  “It’s not the disciplines themselves but God at work through them that enables us to love him and love our neighbor more and more” (Johnson, 2017, p.79).

In the practice of spiritual disciplines today, we ought to develop an awareness of our own unworthiness as we make our way back to God.  We are sinners, servants who can only do our jobs.  Yet in practicing submission and obedience, God meets us along the way and transforms us—from how we view ourselves to how He views us—as children who belong in His family, worthy of the fattened calf, of restoration to His family, regardless of how we may have mistreated Him in the past.  In God’s story, the reconciliation facilitates the transformation.  It is a story of the prodigal father more than that of the prodigal son.  It expresses the lavish, extravagant scale by which God loves us—unconditionally—the gift we receive for the price of our submission.

It is the same call throughout the scriptures—travel the path of submission.  In this calling, one is asked to relinquish his own self-interest and submit to God to find life everlasting.  As God called Israel to submission in Deuteronomy 30, so Jesus calls all nations to discipleship in Mark 8:34-35:

"Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life…."—Deuteronomy 30:19-20

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:35

Conclusion and Application

The practice of spiritual disciplines is merely a path.  On the journey to be reconciled to God, the practice of submission puts us on that path.  Submission is the physical manifestation of denying oneself, not giving in to our pride, not promoting self-reliance, but rather allowing submission to nurture hearts that would be open to being transformed into hearts of humility.  Submission allows us to take the journey back to God, to acknowledge our decisions’ shortcomings when we choose to live away from God’s family, and, recognizing our inherent need for God, to belong to His family; and that a life outside the family of God leads to spiritual starvation and death.

Calhoun (2005) lists the desired outcomes of the spiritual discipline of submission as follows: 

  1.  being free from the need to be in charge, 
  2.  teachability, 
  3.  esteeming and honoring others more than yourself, 
  4.  being free from a rebellious and autonomous spirit, 
  5.  surrendering and losing your life to find it, 
  6.  developing approachability, gentleness, humility, and 
  7.  expressing a deep regard for others and what they might have to offer (p. 118).

In the discipline of submission lies a heart of trust, obedience, self-denial, allegiance, subordination and reverence for the One who desires to reconcile all to His family.

The parable highlights the heart that God has displayed to His chosen people from the beginning—His prodigal love for Israel as He brings them out of Egypt, His prodigal promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, His prodigal love to all nations as He sends His only Son, making reconciliation possible.  It teaches that God will meet us halfway, if not more, when we submit and take the path back to be reconciled to Him.  

In the story of the prodigal son, I find myself as the younger son, concerned about myself and how I’m going to survive, how I’m going to live, and going back to my father so he can provide for me.  Like the younger son, even when I have tried to walk the path back to God, it is because I recognize that I need Him for how he can provide for my wellbeing.  What I fail to see is the extravagance of the father’s love as I have continued to love myself and looked to God to take care of me.

In St. John of the Cross’ spiritual direction, it is the internal purity of the soul—the destruction of all self-love for the love of God above all—rather than the externals of life’s action that are of paramount importance.

"For God, although he resides in the soul as a hidden God, cannot fully occupy the soul with the lustrous radiance of His love when there remains in it anything of a selfish self-love; a self-love or attachment to anything even to the slightest degree, which excludes love for Him and for His greater glory" (Kozlowski, 1998, pp. 336-337)

As I strive to get rid of all self-love in my heart and submit all of my self, relinquish all my desires and align my will to that of God’s for my life, I am reminded of similar vows I made to my husband when we got married—that all my thoughts, love and desires have been pledged to him in this life.  Comparing this allegiance to my marriage, my acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship in my life demands that all my desires, all my love be submitted to Jesus as well.  The parable of the prodigal son reminds me of my shortcomings in my understanding of the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

    Like the younger son, I have walked this path.  I had pledged my allegiance to God and made Jesus Lord of my life.  At some point in my discipleship, I decided to walk away from the Father.  Living an immoral life where I took control of my choices rather than choosing to be obedient to God and continuing to be a part of His family, I made my way back to the world with the illusion of having the freedom to make my own choices.  Along the way, I broke relationships, dishonored my pledge, severed my ties with God’s family.  It was months later when I finally broke down and realized how empty my pursuit has been.  I found myself with nowhere to turn except back to God.  The heart of the younger son in vv. 17-19 resonated with me.  I resolved to go back with the heart that I had nothing to offer God but my sinful life and my broken heart.  I would ask him to take me back and face whatever consequences came my way.  It has been over 20 years since He took me back.  I have been welcomed with the fattened calf, I have partaken of the great banquet and been restored to the family of God.  Truly God is gracious:  he took my sinful life and made it beautiful.  He took my broken heart and made it whole.  The privileges I enjoy now, being married to a son of God, having a family of my own, the gift of purity in our relationship, are expressions of the extravagance of God’s love for me.  I had nothing to do with it.  I only made the decision to take the path back to God—with a heart that was willing to submit and obey.

"…whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."—Matthew 5:19

Submission has not been an easy path for me.  A single mother in a matriarchal family raised me.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, my lack of submission showed in the way I treated authority, especially male authority.  This weakness showed in my relationships.  I justified my lack of submission with scriptures like Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” or with other religious-sounding arguments or twisting of the Scriptures’ meanings.  Over the years, I have studied, sought advice and practiced what I thought were ways that helped me develop a more submissive spirit.  The study of spiritual disciplines has shown me that I have quite a way to go on this path.  As I have grown older, I have come to rely on outward practices rather than dealing with my heart.  I have been content with outward expressions of submission rather than true reverent piety towards God.  As I reflect on my life, I look back on the innumerable times God has continued to open His arms and welcome me back when I have strayed from submission.

"Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life." – Proverbs 4:23 (CSB)

I have a very humanistic approach to my relationship with God.  I tend to deal with external behaviors and evaluate my faith accordingly.  As such, I tend to work from the outside and then make my way inside.  It is self-reliant.  I have found that spiritual formation is not an easy journey.  But perhaps the easy yoke Christ speaks of in Matthew 11:28-30 is a place for me to start.  I need to look at the spiritual disciplines as the true means to taking up the ‘easy yoke.’  This can start with the practical steps recommended by Calhoun (2005):

  •  seeking God’s will (no matter where it leads) and doing it
  • allowing others to mentor, disciple, teach, correct and guide you
  • being a good follower
  • laying aside the need to be in charge
  • willing and eager obedience to God and those to whom you owe obedience
  • being an eager learner, trainable and tractable (p. 118).

"Godly submission is rooted in God’s good and loving intentions for each one of us. …  Therefore, biblical submission does not … rob them of their freedom.  Submission is a way we allow God’s kingdom agenda to shape our choices, relationships and vocations.  And it always works in conjunction with personal freedom" (Calhoun, 2005, p. 119).

Corporally, we could emphasize imitating Jesus individually more rather than organizing activities that only serve to make us look like every church in our community.  In practicing submission, our congregation could nurture relationships in the family of God that would promote healthy guidance in our “one-another relationships.”  Our emphasis on external, corporate activities tends to drive the individual away from practicing spiritual disciplines as we lack the time and direction to develop them personally.  

We are part of an increasingly-connected global environment.  Every moment of our lives can be documented or filled with entertainment at the touch of a fingertip.  Peace comes at a premium as people tend to want to go to far-flung places, secluded and away from all that civilized life offers in order to find a break from the pace of their lives.  Living in a society that moves at such a frenetic pace, the parable of the prodigal son offers the world the peace that counters the prevailing culture—freedom through submission, victory in surrender, a full life if you relinquish everything.

To help us reach the world for Christianity, I believe the story of the prodigal son helps us understand that reconciliation with God is not dependent on our transformation of ourselves.  There is nothing we can do on our own to facilitate the transformation of our hearts.  It would be exhausting work if it was left up to us.  A heavy yoke versus Jesus’ easy yoke.  In the same way, sharing with others about God is not about what people ought to ‘do’ in order to be reconciled to God.  Rather, we ought to teach of the most important decision that the younger son has taken—that of walking the path that would take him home to his father.  God will do the rest.

"Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground.  Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’…."—Isaiah 45:9

In pottery-making, kneading is a very important first step.  After taking clay, water is added to it.  Water is distributed evenly but if the clay is really hard, it needs to be soaked in water.  Only after this step does the clay become moldable.  Likewise, it is only after the believer is immersed in the waters of baptism is one’s heart ready to be transformed by God.  

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The next step is molding.  When a potter makes something, you learn to love everything about the finished product.  You love it because you made it—every curve, every contour, every shape, every imperfection.  In this way, God already loves us even as He makes us into His finished product—every shape, every imperfection is lovingly formed.  Working with clay also produces the best result when one works daily.  Working on it inconsistently would return the clay to its harder form thus requiring more effort from the potter next time.  So it is that the spiritual practice of submission aims for consistency.

In molding, the pressure needs to be even AND gentle—not too soft, not too strong.  The good potter knows that the pressure on the inside of the clay vessel needs to be the same as the pressure on the outside.  At times, we may feel hard-pressed but God knows how much pressure to put—inside and outside—as He molds us for His use.

Once it has taken the shape that the potter intended, the pottery is now put through the heating process.  The heating process allows the clay particles to stick together.   At the end of the first heating process, the pottery is not ready for use yet.  It’s formed but brittle.  One could compare it to our younger years of discipleship as God gently forms us and molds us. 

In order to be useful, it has to go through another heating process that requires more heat.  The temperature required during the heating process depends on the purpose or intention of the potter for the vessel.  The times in our lives when we feel the most ‘heat’—of suffering, persecution, we are being molded according to God’s purpose for our lives. 

Finally, the potter applies glaze to the pottery.  Glaze is not inherent in clay.  It can only come from the artist.  This is the grace we receive from God.  It is Jesus’ blood, the sacrifice of His life that covers us so we are reconciled with God.  It is not something we can do on our own; it can only come from the Father.  

When the potter is done, the original clay is no longer visible—only the glaze.  So it is with our lives, when God, the potter, is done molding us and transforming us, it ought to be Jesus who is on display.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."– 2 Cor. 4:7-10

It is easy to fight the process of submission, to fight the process of being transformed.  But as the clay needs to remain under the hands of the potter in order for the transformation to occur, so we should practice the spiritual discipline of submission for the inner transformation of our hearts to happen.  Let us then imitate our Lord’s attitude towards submission, as death was set before him: 

"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it was for this very reason I came to his hour.  Father, glorify your name!'” – John 12:27-28

 

 

Bibliography:

À Kempis, Thomas. (1989). The Imitation of Christ. Gardiner, Harold S.J. (Ed.) New York, NY: Image.

Bock, Darrell. (1996). Luke, Vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Silva, Moisés (Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1995). The Cost of Discipleship. (Munchen, Verlag & Fuller, R.H., Trans) New York, NY: Touchstone.  Original work published 1937.

Bruce, F.F., gen. ed. (1986). The International Bible Commentary with the NIV.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. (2005).  Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.  Downers Grove, IL: IVP.

Easton, Burton Scott. (1926).  The Gospel According to St. Luke: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary.  New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Eerdmans Bible Commentary Third Edition. (1987).  Grand Rapids, MI: WM B Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Ferguson, Gordon. (1995).  The Victory of Surrender.  Woburn, MA: DPI.

Foster, Richard & Griffin, Emilie, ed. (2000) Spiritual Classics.  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Foster, Richard J.  (1988). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.  

Johnson, K.D. (2017).  Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World.  Christianity Today, 61(7), 77-79.

Kinnard, Steve G. (2006). The Way of the Heart: Spiritual Living in a Legalistic World.  Newton, MA: IPI.

Kozlowski, Joseph Paul. (1998)  Spiritual Direction & Spiritual Disciplines.  Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing.

Levine, A. (2014).  A parable and its baggage: what the prodigal son story doesn’t mean.  The Christian Century, 131(18), 20-23.

Powell, John S.J. (1978). Unconditional Love.  Allen, TX: Argus Communications.

Rolheiser, Ronald. (2014). Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. New York, NY: Image.

Tobkin, M.J. (1998).  The tension between justice and mercy in the parable of the prodigal son.  Journal Of Theta Alpha Kappa, 22(2), 26-43.

Willard, Dallas. (1988).  The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes

Lives. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Williams, B.J. (2010.  Brotherhood motifs in the parable of the prodigal son.  Restoration Quarterly, 56(2), 99-109.

Wirt, Sherwood, ed. (1983).  Spiritual Disciplines: Devotional Writings from The Great

Christian Leaders of the Seventeenth Century.  Westchester, IL: Crossway.


About the author, Cindy Fetherman:

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I was baptized in the US territory of Guam 24 years ago.  After moving to Denver from four wonderful years in Cambodia, I started pursuing my MABT in the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology.  I recently transferred to Lincoln Christian University and hope to pursue a MA in Biblical Languages as well.  My husband and I currently serve in our youth and family ministry and we hope to use what we are learning to serve in smaller churches in the future.

The Teaching and Practice of "Sanctifying the Ordinary" in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

With Special Attention to "Befriending Death"

by Renee Rheinbolt Uribe -- Bogota, Colombia

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“Why the World Needs to Get Ready for People Dying” -- today’s BBC news headlines. I believe that,  as believers, we need to take this a step further: “Why the church needs to get ready for people dying.” Not in terms of evangelism, but in the context of the body of Christ. As we well know, we do not “retire” from being a follower of Christ; he calls us to follow him until our last breath. Rolheiser describes this stage in the spiritual path as the season of Radical Discipleship: the struggle to give our deaths away. An important message for the modern followers of Christ. 

Definition of “Sanctifying the Ordinary” 

Harrison Warren (2016) gives a descriptive definition pointing to a sign she saw at a prominent New Monasticism community house, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes” (p. 35).  Kinnard (2018) writes, “To sanctify,” means ‘to set apart or to make holy.’ When we sanctify the ordinary, we take the commonplace, regular, everyday actions that make up the day and make them holy acts. We dedicate them to God. By doing this, we change our attitude about the small things”(Lecture Notes).  Canlis (2017),  in her book, A Theology of the Ordinary, adds:

"Have you ever been struck by the domesticity of the incarnation? When He comes to earth, God places Himself not in a palace but in a family. Faced with a world going to hell in a hand basket, God’s rescue mission is ... to be born? How ordinary is that? It is here, in the confines of a little family, unnoticed by the whole world, the new creation has begun. … This is how God works. This is His rule, not the exception. God enters into creation and engages with us there on creation’s terms. God works with our regular responses to Him in our ordinary lives. Mary’s visitation by the angel was extraordinary—to be sure—but no more extraordinary than the life of a girl who had already habituated herself to surrender, over and over again, to God in her daily life."

As Willard (1998) states, “There truly is no division between sacred and secular except what we have created," (p. 214). 

Definition of “Befriending Death”

The reality is,  “Many Christians have an inadequate theology of ordinary life,” writes Gene Veith (1999). If we are not practicing the spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary;”  we are not truly ready to be followers of Christ to the end. The topic of death is not a favorite topic in our day and age, as Nouwen (1979) states, “Most people in our society do not want to disturb each other with the idea of death” (p. 68). But we are missing out on an incredible opportunity as followers of Christ by discussing this amazing stage of radical discipleship! I find wisdom in Nouwen’s (2015) teaching of “befriending your death.” He shares, “I have a deep sense that if we could move from a denying to befriending our death before we die, if we could relate to death as a familiar guest instead of a threatening enemy, we would be freer of fear, guilt, and resentment. (p. 104)

Biblical Overview  

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

What is evident throughout the Bible is that people die. The only ones mentioned that did not go through this last “dark journey of the soul” are Enoch and Elijah. Old age is a common theme throughout the Bible as well. The Biblical Narrative is bursting with older people serving God until “their dying day”. [It must be kept in mind that historical, anthropological, cultural,  and medical reasons might change the concept of what is “old” between ancient biblical times and now. Even modern societies face extreme differences.] The most common stories we are familiar with are Abraham (Gen. 21:1-5, Rom. 4:19 and Heb. 11:11); Moses & Aaron (Ex.7:7); Joshua and Caleb (Joshua 24:29; 14:6-11) and Daniel (Dan. 1:21). These are the most common example of spiritual “productivity” in the older years. The one that I have heard quoted the most is Caleb’s bold statement in Josh. 14:11-12: 

I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day; for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; it may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the Lord said.” (NRSV)

Alternatively, there are many examples of other elderly people, including Isaac, who became blind and weak in his old age (Gen. 27:1) and was manipulated by his wife and their younger son, Jacob. Joseph gave specific instruction in his old age as to what do to with his bones (Gen. 50:25, Heb. 11:22). Moses did not “Sanctify the Ordinary” on several occasions, including getting angry at the Israelites and hitting the rock in anger (Num. 20:9-13). The consequences of this is the denial of his entrance into the Promised Land (Deut. 34:4). 

Samson did not live a sanctified life but he did finish his life in an event that later had him put in the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11. He sanctified that moment by using all the strength God had given him to destroy the pagan temple and kill many enemies of God. 

Naomi “Sanctified the Ordinary” when returning heartbroken to her homeland; guiding her faithful daughter-in-law through the norms of the day of acquiring food and seeking a husband (Boaz). Referring to her grandson, Ruth 4:15 reads, “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him” (NRSV). Her “Sanctifying the Ordinary” not only gave her profound happiness in her old age but also eventually led to the birth of Christ. 

The book of Job addresses the conditions of pain and weakness better than any other. Yancey (1999) reveals, “the best man on earth suffering the worst, with no sign of encouragement or comfort from God” (p. 68). How did he deal with this powerlessness? As Job. 2:13 narrates, his three friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, with no one saying a word to him. Sitting on the ground, without saying anything is sanctified here. And then, in Job 42:11, after Job comes to a place of peace with his suffering and prays for his friends, what does he do? He invites everyone he knows over to eat. The cooking and serving of a meal is sanctified! 

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Yancey (1999) reminds us that Ecclesiastes is a “profound reminder of the limits of being human” (p. 161). The author of Ecclesiastes repeats time after time the importance of living the “ordinary” aspects of life with God in mind. In Ecc. 2:24-26, we read that with God’s help we can find satisfaction and enjoyment while eating, as well as in Ecc. 3:12-1; 4;18-20; 8:15-17; 9:7-10. Time after time the importance of the main aspect of life--eating --  is pointed out. Eating is an “ordinary” activity we must partake in several times a day, from birth until death! Eating would not be sanctified, if there were not all the other “ordinary” aspects of the process--planning, buying, cooking, killing animals (a must in biblical times), serving, washing dishes, etc. Summarized by these four words, a lot of work! Along these lines Schaeffer (1971) notes, “Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavour of food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on during the next hours better equipped to meet the problems.” (p. 124) 

Paul in his letter to the believers in Colossae expresses the same sentiment, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17, NRSV). He writes as well as to the Corinthian believers, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31, NRSV) 

Another New Testament teaching concerning “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is found in 1 Cor. 7:33-34,

"But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband." (NET)

Married believers are instructed to view their commitments, due to their martial situation, as a service to God.   It is often helpful to look at the women in the Bible within the context of their Judeo culture.  Martha Peace (1997) shares illuminating information on this subject.  According to the Mishna, the ancient codification of Jewish law and tradition, the married Jewish woman was in charge of every detail of the running of her household—from grinding the flour to make fresh bread, to raising and teaching the children, making the wool for the family clothes, caring for the extended family, especially her mother-in-law, overseeing the work of the servants, and the list goes on and on (p. 115).  

Also in 1 Peter 3:1-4, it is interesting how silence is sanctified, in this situation of Christian women married to non-believing husbands:

"Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing;  rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight." (emphasized added, NRSV) 

Arnold adds, “People who love one another can be silent together,” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 165). 

The woman in Biblical times would understand well what it meant to “Sanctify the Ordinary,” since their daily activities would not change, but the heart in which they were carried out would. In the study of early Christian history, so many of these women who had no choice but to “Sanctify the Ordinary” (there was not an option of “forget dinner,” let's go through the drive- through at McDonalds) ended up being involved in the amazing transformation as Christianity spread like “wildfire.” This apparently small and obscure sect of Judaism ended up attracting millions of people from the many races and cultures which composed the Mediterranean world (Latourette, 1975, p. 65). From their homes they were able to influence so many of the pagan world’s “barbarous practices: abandonment of the elderly, abortion, child sacrifice, infanticide and exposure, the degradation of women, gladiatorial combat, cannibalism, slavery and many more social ills (Jacoby, 2006, p. 91). 

Barton confirms, ''But, perhaps above all else, Christianity brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death'' (as cited in Stark, 1997, p. 214). The Epistle to Diogenetus expresses the early Christians' sentiment and activity:

"Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God." (as cited in Camp, 2003, p. 179)

This Christian application of loving one another was felt deeply in the deeply pagan culture of the Roman empire. Stark (1997) declared, 'This was revolutionary stuff'' (p. 212). Christianity taught a different concept than the Roman philosophers, that regarded mercy and pity as defects in a person's character. For example, Plato removed beggars from his ideal state. This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues--that a merciful god requires humans to be merciful. And in this climate, a deep compassion was developed for the weak and elderly.

“Sanctifying the Ordinary” in Jesus’ Powerlessness Prior to Death

The Gospels can be loosely placed in the genre of “ancient biography.” It is important to comprehend why there are not that many details of Jesus’ daily routines and why there is insufficient data. Powell (2009) reveals that the objective of ancient biographies was “to relate accounts that portrayed the essential character of the person who was the subject of the work. Indeed, the purpose of the biography was to define that person’s character in a manner that would invite emulation” (p. 84). Tenney states that though the Gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Jesus, no other Gospel delineated his humanity so clearly. He also describes this Gospel as “strongly theological, and it deals particularly with the nature of his person and with the meaning of faith in him." He also states,  “The discourses of Jesus in it are concerned chiefly with his person rather than with the ethical teaching of the kingdom. Personal interviews are multiplied, and Jesus’ relationship to individuals is stressed” (p. 188).  

“Everything He did during His earthly life was holy: he converted them into prayer and his ordinary daily activities had a divine and redeeming value.” (Fr. Rolly A., priest of Opus Dei) 

Jesus had to eat, sleep, perform normal bodily functions and other “ordinary” activities, some examples of which are mentioned in passing within the Gospels. I believe the women who followed him around helped him financially, but also helped with some of these “ordinary” and necessary functions always done by women in that culture: cooking, washing clothes, etc. (Matt. 27:55-56, Mark 15:41 and Luke 8:2-3); in other words, ''performed for them those solicitous domestic functions which are the supreme consolation of male life'' (Durant, 1945, p. 564). Also, Jesus lived in weakness when he came to this earth in human form. He was defenseless in the womb, as a baby, as a child and had to live an “ordinary” life, with others doing things for him. Harrison Warren (2016), “The one who is worthy of worship, glory, and fanfare spent decades in obscurity and ordinariness” (p. 16). Rolheiser (2014) succinctly describes, 

Up to his arrest, the Gospels describe Jesus as active, as doing things, in charge, preaching, teaching, performing miracles, consoling people. Then, after his arrest, all the verbs become passive: he is led away, manhandled by the authorities, whipped, helped in carrying his cross, and ultimately nailed to the cross. After his arrest, like a patient in palliative care, he no longer does anything; others do it for him and to him. He is passive, a patient. And in the manner he endured that passivity, he gave his death for us (p. 287).

I list some “ordinary” tasks which highlight Jesus’ passivity, not the outright violent acts:

John 18:28--was led by others (Matt. 27:2)

John 19:2--was dressed (in a purple robe) by others (Matt. 27:28 says that they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and Matt. 27:31 they took the robe off and put his own clothes on him again)

John 19:17-- starting with carrying his own cross (then Simon was forced to carry it Matt. 27:32)

John 19:23--soldiers took his clothes John 19:25-27--gave final instructions for his mother and his dearest friend

John 19:28-29--was thirsty and drank wine vinegar from a sponge put on a stick 

Main Text for Exegesis

John 21:17-19:

 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (ESV).

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After Jesus’ resurrection, he returns to visit many of his followers. The account in John 21 is a beautiful, “tightly unified narrative” (Wiarda, 1992, p. 1),  recounting his encounter with his closest friends -- especially Peter. First, he joins them in “ordinary” activities, including helping them with advice for the task at hand, fishing. Then, while they finished their fishing, he starts a fire and cooks a breakfast of fish and bread. “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast’” (John 21:12a, NRSV). After all these necessary but “ordinary” tasks, he speaks directly to Peter’s heart.  

“Peter’s encounter with Jesus by the Sea of Tiberius represents the first substantial conversation that is recorded in Scripture between the two of them following Peter’s denial of Jesus. As such, this may reflect the tension that appears to permeate their reunion” (Poon, p. 53)

He asks him three separate times, “Peter do you love me?” I would like to note loving Jesus is not dependent on physical strength.  But Peter is now certain: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17b, NRSV). Jesus repeatedly confirms that love for him implies love for others: “feed my sheep” (vs. 15b); “take care of my sheep” (vs. 16b) and “feed my sheep” (vs. 17b). In this context, how did Jesus show this care for his sheep? In many ways, by partaking in “ordinary” activities: being out with them in the early morning, helping them out with their job (with timely and practical advice), making a fire and subsequently, cooking bread and fish for their breakfast and concluding with a “heart to heart” talk. 

The author of Hebrews highlights Jesus’ attitude, which overflows in his interaction with Peter, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16, NRSV). And “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness” (Heb. 5:2, NRSV). 

As I research this text, it seems used more than anything as example of spiritual leadership. This is summarized in They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson (1996) “After modeling shepherd leadership, Jesus passed the model on to the apostles. Three times in one brief conversation, Jesus charged Peter (possibly as a representative of the entire apostolate): ‘Feed my lambs,’ Take care of my sheep’ and Feed my sheep.’ By implication he is saying “Adopt my spiritual leadership style” (p. 18). Davids (1990) parallels this text with 1 Peter 5:2-3,“to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (NRSV). He brings up some important points:

"After all, none of God’s acts of humanity was done out of necessity, but voluntarily, out of grace (p. 179). . . .  In fact, one could well argue that, following the pattern of the ancient world and especially of Judaism, teaching and leading was for the NT basically a matter of example rather than of lecture or command. Being an example fits well with the image of ‘flock,’ for the ancient shepherd did not drive his sheep, but walked in front of them and called them to follow." (p. 181)

I find there are two camps that use vs. 18 as an example in distinct manners of radical discipleship. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (NRSV). There are scholars and Christian writers who emphasis the prophecy of Peter’s death as a martyr, highlighted as the “last act” of radical and extraordinary discipleship. And then others, emphasize the ordinariness and powerlessness of the situation, more along the lines of living the last “journey through the dark night.” Rolheiser (2004) describes, “we are meant to give our deaths away, not just at the moment of our deaths but in a whole process of leaving this planet in such a way that our diminishment and death is our final, and perhaps greatest, gift to the world” (p. 19). Stott (2010) combines both ideas, “John tells us that Jesus’ words had a specific reference to Peter and his death but they embody a principle of wider application to growing old” (p. 109). Calvin in his commentary amplifies the passage as follows: 

"Another will gird thee. Many think this denotes the manner of death which Peter was to die, meaning that he was hanged, with his arms stretched out; but I consider the word gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life. Thou girdedst thyself; that is, "thou wast accustomed to wear such raiment as thou chosest, but this liberty of choosing thy dress will be taken from thee." 

The Greek word for gird is zonnumi: to dress, clothe oneself, put on a belt or sash. Calvin adds another layer of meaning to this text, “gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life.” This brings to mind Francis de Sales words,

    

 

 

"The great virtues and the small fidelities are like sugar and salt. Sugar may have a more    exquisite taste, but its use is less frequent. Salt is found everywhere. The great virtues are a rare occurrence; the ministry of small things is a daily service. Large tasks require a great sacrifice for a moment; small things require constant sacrifice. . . In the realm of the spirit we soon discover that the real issues are found in the tiny, insignificant corners of life. Our infatuation with the "big deal" has blinded us to this fact. The service of small things will put us at odds with our sloth and idleness." (cited by in Foster, 1998, p. 135) 

In the context of Calvin’s interpretation, Peter had the option to add “salt” to his life daily. Springing from his profound love for Christ, he would care for the sheep, maybe most of the time in small and insignificant ways. But the context of the “being led” and “being dressed”  message, I find, Stott (2010) describes as follows: 

"Jesus himself taught dependence grows as we grow. . . . We come into this world totally dependent on the love, care and protection of others. We go through a phase of life when other people depend on us. And most of us will go out of this world totally dependent on the love and care of others. And this is not an evil, destructive reality. It is part of the design, part of the physical nature that God has given us." (p. 109-11)

Brother Lawrence, whose impact on believers has been noted for centuries with his teachings on “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” adds, “We begin to need His help with every little thing and at every moment, because without it we can do nothing. The world, the flesh, and the devil wage a fierce and continuous war on our souls. . . . Although this total dependence may sometimes go against our human nature, God takes great pleasure in it” (1980, p. 60).

Old Man in Sorrow

Follow Me (Jesus). . . “Only A Suffering God Can Help”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Nouwen (2015), when discussing the theme of old age, uses Van Gogh’s (1890) Old Man in Sorrow to illustrate this stage, “The old man is ‘worn out’, Vincent notes ‘on the threshold of eternity’” (p.  103). Following Christ can lead us to places we do not want to go: excruciating, vulnerable and even haunting places. In the US Evangelical context, following Christ has a message of “doing great things for Christ” and “winning the world in this generation.” I have not perceived a message of preparation for old age and powerlessness.  Martyrdom, yes, but not “getting old for Christ.” Nouwen  (1979) has a few choice words in this regard, “ Thinking about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize that real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding” (p. 72). Even though with Billy Graham's recent death at the age of 99, there could be greater interest. That is why I am highlighting Jesus’ words to Peter “but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” and then Jesus continues with a short command “follow me.” Jesus had just given Peter a full-blown personal example of how to let others do “ordinary” tasks for you with an obvious sanctification “stamp.” As Nowen (2015) so beautifully expresses, “Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide” (p. 6). 

Tagliaferre (2010) provides insight:

"Curiously, one of the last things spoken by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John to Simon Peter was, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18) Studies indicate that physical dependence is the great fear among aging steeple. Aging requires that one adapt to physical deterioration and awareness of pending death while relinquishing leadership to future generations. But more than that are the changes in intellectual, relational, and spiritual transitions that also must be accommodated with age.” (p. 257)

In a personal way, I find this teaching extremely helpful as I face the later part of my life (and my husband’s), as well as my parents’ (and in-laws) elderly years. The focus on this paper is not to discuss projects for the elderly but the spiritual call for each follower of Christ as we approach this next stage of discipleship, radical discipleship. To follow Christ’s example when facing the powerlessness that accompanies terminal illness and old age is our ultimate charge. Ecclesiastes illustrates what is coined by St. John of the Cross as the “dark night of the soul:” 

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets (Ecc. 12:1-5, NRSV).

Those ordinary things in this stage are sanctified, even if someone else must do them for us--if we are doing them out of our spiritual walk and journey. I am someone who needs to hear this lesson. I am renewing a “more productive” time after dedicating almost twenty years of serving God with the ordinary, as a mother and wife. If it were needed to again focus much more on the ordinary, to possibly care for my parents or my in-laws (who all live in the US), if the need were to arise, this would come at a price, leaving our mission work in Latin America. But as I have experienced extreme weakness due to prolonged illness, challenging pregnancies and for other reasons, all these experiences and lessons (past, present and future) are all building blocks to prepare for the last stage of my walk with Christ. 

Villacorta (2017) describes this inner struggle within the context of our Western culture, which flourishes within our congregations, “The external forces of a power production driven society are counter to the idea of a spirituality of waiting” (p. 60). He continues, “Since our human nature resists powerlessness it will do most anything to strike back even to the point where our character, spiritual life and relationships with others are compromised” (p. 67). Brunner (1955), when discussing hope, shares, “There is no optimism in the New Testament; optimism is the mark of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 50);  also, “That is one of the fairy tales of our age, --that men need the idea of progress to make them active. What we really need to make us active is love and if we have love we need no other stimulus” (p. 57).  Nouwen (2002) illustrates the struggle at hand, “the long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.  Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints (or true carriers of  Jesus' legacy) ( last words are mine, pp. 77 & 79).  

Rolheiser (2014) brings up, “Aging: an art form?”(p. 298). Nouwen does make it sound like that! He also mentions “our death is meant to be our last and greatest gift to our loved ones” (p. 285), and brings up the question, “How can I live now so that when I die, my death is an optimal blessing to my family, my friends, the church, and the world?” (p. 285). If we are willing, following Christ leads us down a road of accepting death, not fearing it, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),  and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15 NET).

Within my spiritual community in Bogota, Colombia, where I have been an active member for two and-a-half decades, there are many applications of this spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” especially in the extreme-illness or in the old-age stage. But many people here have been examples to me, they are actually why I am aware of this application of this specific spiritual discipline. I have been close to many brothers and sisters who have passed away during all these years, but two women who passed away last fall have touched me in an especially profound manner.

One was a woman who was baptized almost 25 years ago, Virgelina. She was already almost 50 years old at the time and, at around 60 years of age, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. For her last 15 years she had been such an amazing example of a spiritual woman, even when bedridden: devoted to prayer; always willing to love more one more person; soft of heart, always giving her best. She was poor, but so rich in heart. Her life touched so many people throughout the years. At her funeral it was so obvious that her death was a blessing to her family, friends, the church, and even to people who had not ever met her! 

The other person is my sister-in-law, who died at the young age of 48. She lived two decades in a lesbian lifestyle and one day called me up and said “I am ready to turn my life over to God.”  Soon after this she got baptized. Six months after her baptism, she found out that she an aggressive type of breast cancer. She bravely faced her surgeries and chemotherapies, while touching people’s lives with God’s love at every turn. Every Sunday she would sing out to God in worship with so much enthusiasm!  During this time, she helped so many people she knew come to know God and get baptized (including one of her former partners). A month after her total recovery from the breast cancer, it was discovered she had lung cancer (that later metastasized to the brain). As she realized there was no other road for her life but to “befriend death”, her example of radical discipleship was amazing! [Even though she was rebuked by many a Christian accusing her of insufficient faith.] Her last few weeks, others had to help her with dressing, eating and getting from here to there. It was obvious that these ordinary tasks were sanctified! Even though it was challenging for her to lose the ability to care for herself, she made such an effort to thank each person for every little or big thing they did for her. I had the privilege of observing what Nouwen describes as, to “go through the birthing canal,” while her closest family and friends were encouraging to “push through.” To her last breath, she was encouraging others, even joking. During her lifetime we were not that close, but observing her last journey into the “Dark Night of the Spirit” was a gift to me, personally, as well as for hundreds of others. The funeral home was too small for the hundreds of attendees. It was a sad time but simultaneously, so happy! It was as if we were unwrapping the gift that she had given us, through the way she lived and the way she died. 

In the way these women lived and died they paved the way that shows, “the effective and full enjoyment of active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of normal existence where we are placed.” (Willard, 1988, p. 138). The core teaching of Jesus and his last words to Peter come alive in the lives of Virgelina and my sister-in-law. This teaching of the spiritual discipline in “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is vital as we grow older as followers of Christ;  but we must start NOW. Chambers cautions, “If we refuse to practice, it is not God’s grace that fails when a crisis comes, but our own nature. When the crisis comes, we ask God to help us, but He cannot if we have not made our nature our ally. The practicing is ours, not God’s. God regenerates us and puts in contact with all His divine resources, but He cannot make us walk according to His will” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 118).  But we must continue or return to the “path” of spiritual discipline and realize the joy ahead of us when we are experiencing powerless in the elderly stage of life or due to extreme illness.  Remembering the example of Jesus,   as Peter did:

"Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up (Heb. 12:2-3, NET). 

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There is joy in depending on others for the ordinary tasks of life, because if our heart and mind are in the right place, we continue in our worship of God. Nouwen (2015) expresses these closing thoughts like no other could: 

"Remember: You belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime -- long or short -- is only a part of your total life in God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: “I love you, too.” (p. 48)

 

References

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/john/21.htm

Anderson, L. (1997). They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership For The 21st Century. Howard Pub.

Brunner, E. (1955). Faith, Hope, And Love. Lutterworth Press.

Camp, L. C. (2004). Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity In A Rebellious World. Brazos Press.

Canlis, J. (2017). A Theology Of The Ordinary. Godspeed Press.

C. (n.d.). Posts about Sanctification of ordinary life on Catholics Striving for Holiness. Retrieved from https://catholicsstrivingforholiness.com/category/sanctification-of-ordinary-life/

Davids, P. H. (2009). The First Epistle of Peter. Eerdmans.

Durant, W. (1944). Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization III. Simon and Schuster.

Foster, R. J. (1988). Celebration Of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth. HarperSanFrancisco.

Horton, M. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable Faith In A Radical, Restless World. Zondervan.

Jacoby, D. (2006). The Letters of James, Peter, John, Jude: Life to the Full.  Discipleship Publications International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2006). The Way Of The Heart: Spiritual Living In A Legalistic World. Illumination Publishers International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2018). Sanctifying The Ordinary: 24-7 Discipleship. Lecture notes in LCU course BT 654. 

Latourette, K. S. (1975). A History Of Christianity. Harper and Row.

Lynch, E. K. (1974). The Practice Of The Presence Of God. Carmelite Press.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Direction: Wisdom For The Long Walk Of Faith. HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Formation: Following The Movements Of The Spirit. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The Wounded Healer. Double day.

Peace, M. (1996). The Excellent Wife. Focus Pub.

Poon, R. (2006). John 21: A Johannine Model Of Leadership. Journal Of Biblical Perspective In Leadership. Leadership 1, no. 1 (Fall 2006), 49-70.

Powell, M. A. (2015). Introducing The New Testament: A Historical, Literary, And Theological Survey. Baker Academic.

Rolheiser, R. (2017). Sacred Fire: A Vision For A Deeper Human And Christian Maturity. Doubleday.

Rolheiser, R. (2014). The Holy Longing: The Search For A Christian Spirituality. Image.

Schaeffer, E. (1971). The Hidden Art Of Homemaking. Tyndale House.

The School of the Parish. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://world.regent-college.edu/profile/the-school-of-the-parish

Sleeman, D.K. (2018, March 02). Why The World Needs To Get Ready For More People Dying. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-43159823

Stark, R. (1997). The rise of Christianity: How the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries. Harper Collins.

Stott, J. R. (2015). The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling. IVP

Tagliaferre, L. (2010). Lessons From Sedona. iUniverse. 

Tenney, M. C., & Dunnett, W. M. (1987). New Testament Survey. Eerdmans.

Veith, G. E. (2010). The Spirituality Of The Cross: The Way Of The First Evangelicals. Concordia Pub. House.

Villacorta, W. G. (2017). Tug Of War: The Downward Ascent Of Power. Cascade Books.

Warren, T. H. (2016). Liturgy Of The Ordinary - Sacred Practices In Everyday Life. Intervarsity Press.

Wiarda, T. (1992, 04). John 21.1-23: Narrative Unity and Its Implications. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 14(46), 53-71. doi:10.1177/0142064x9201404604

Willard, D. (2002). Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. NavPress.

Willard, D. (1999). The Spirit Of The Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. HarperSanFrancisco.

Yancey, P. (2002). The Bible Jesus Read. Zondervan.

 

Photo Credits

Christ appears to his disciples. https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5671097233Chr

Elijah, By Janmad (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/Elijah_17th_c_Weremien_Sanok.jpg

https://nomadicboys.com/vietnamese-savoury-pancakes-recipe-banh-xeo/

J James Tissot, Baked Fish 2, https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/7022212959

Death of Peter, Luca Giordano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Martin LaBar, Joy Poster. https://www.flickr.com/photos/martinlabar/4959216347

 

Renee Rheinbolt Uribe was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but raised in Guatemala by medical missionary parents. She has been a follower of Christ since the young age of 13 and a missionary in Latin America for over three decades (serving in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Colombia). Her undergrad degree is in International Relations. Due to her lifelong love of learning,  with her three kids now in college, she has gotten her MA in Intercultural Studies (Missiology) as well as a MA in Bible and Theology. She met the love of her life on the mission field, Flavio Uribe and they have been based in Bogota, Colombia for over 25 years. She is currently taking Masters courses at Lincoln Christian University in ministry and biblical studies. 

What is Prayer and Why Do We Pray?

A mini-study on Prayer

by John Oakes -- San Diego, California, USA 

Let us start with two questions:

1. What is prayer to you?

2. Why do you pray?

Either write down your answers to these questions or at least take the time to voice your answers to yourself.

 

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I. What is prayer?

Think about your prayer life.   Is your prayer talking to God or is it talking with God?

Also, what is the purpose of you praying?

For myself, as I grew up as a Christian, the model for prayer was what I saw in a public prayer.  When people are praying in public, obviously they talk.  If they stop talking, then the prayer is over.  So, to me, prayer is talking to God, or at least that is how I viewed it for many years.

But there are two problems with this. 

1. Communication is a lot more than words, and

2. Communication, by its very definition, is two-way.

Romans 8:26-27 reads,   "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will." (NIV)

Think about that moment when you communicated your deepest desires and feelings to someone whom you deeply love.  If you are a married person, it might be that look you exchanged with your spouse when the two of you first realized you were in love with each other.  That look said it all.  Words simply do not express our most profound feelings.  Prayer is not just talking.  Prayer is feeling.  Prayer is receiving a message.  The Holy Spirit helps us to express those deepest feelings to God.  And this is a two-way street. He also communicates God’s deep desire for us.  Sometimes in our prayer we need to stop talking.  We need to “be still and know that I Am God.” (Psalms 46:10).

There is a spiritual discipline that most of us have not developed, and I will add myself to the list of novices in this area.  It is meditation.  Prayer may be talking, but it is also meditation.  Meditation is not just for our Hindu friends. We need to take it back for use in Christian prayer.  David meditated, not by saying a mantra, but by contemplating God’s glory.  In Psalm 119:27 he tells us that “I will meditate on your wonders.” In Psalm 77:9, Asaph tells us, “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”  This cannot be done while talking.  In Psalm 48:9 the Sons of Korah tell us that, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”  Prayer that God seeks from us includes meditation.

What is prayer?  It is a lot of things.  To break it down to just one of them is a mistake, but one of those things prayer involves is communicating on the deepest possible level our feelings and desires to God and God doing the same with us.  Let us consider prayer, not just as talking, but as feeling and meditating.  Let us consider the role the Holy Spirit plays in this and let us consider being trained to be still—to stop talking and to meditate on God—on his wonders, on his works and on his unfailing love.

 

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II. Why do we pray?

If we have a more complete understanding of what prayer is, then we will have a greater understanding of why we (hopefully) pray.  Of course, one reason we pray is that we are commanded to pray.  But consider your most valued relationships.  If these relationships are truly valued, then surely you do not communicate with those you love because you “have” to. In fact, if you have to, then that is not love.

Here are three much better reasons for you to consider as to why we pray. Our purposes in prayer include:

1. To give glory to God.

2. To align our heart with God’s will.

3. To influence God and be influenced by him through relationship.

Probably the best go-to place, both for how to pray and why to pray is found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13. Here the disciples, who have been praying their whole lives, realize that Jesus is the master prayer. Therefore, in humility, they ask him how to pray.  In his response to them, we can see all three of the points above.

First, Jesus begins his model prayer by giving glory to God.  All honor and praise belong to God and to God alone. My personal favorite example of this in the Scripture comes, not surprisingly, from the mouth of the second greatest prayer of all time—David. It is in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20.  “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor.” By this time, David is consulting his thesaurus, as he is running out of words. But he is not running out of reasons to give Glory to God.  First and foremost, the reason we pray is to give glory to the God who created us—to the God of all comfort, love, power and dominion, who deserves our eternal praise and who sits in glory in heaven, amen!

Second, we pray so that our hearts and desires can become aligned with God’s will for our own lives  and for the world as a whole.  Jesus says in his model prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Does this mean that God’s will is not always done?  I thought that God was totally sovereign.  In fact, God’s will is not always done because there are creatures who have free will, whose wills very often do not align with the will of Him who created them. In prayer, we seek to align our desires with those of our Father in heaven. We offer ourselves in submission.  We pray for things, but we expect God to give us those things only if it is according to his will, right? In 1 John 5:14-15 we are told that anything we ask that is in accord with his will we will receive. For this reason, as we pray, we are trying to align our will with his will.

The third reason we pray goes back to the first part of this lesson. The greatest purpose of prayer is to give glory to God.  In prayer we align our free wills with God’s will. Both true, but in the end, prayer is two-way communication. In prayer, God presents his deepest desire for us—his will for our lives and for the whole world.  But in prayer, we also lay bare our deepest desires to God.  It is surely one of the greatest mysteries that the Creator of the Universe wants to be influenced by puny little us. In prayer, we move the universe.  Well, it is not exactly we, moving the universe, but it is we moving God, who then moves the universe.  In his model prayer, in Matthew 6:11, Jesus prayed that God would “give us our daily bread.”  In prayer, we present our requests before the most powerful person in the universe, knowing that if it is according to his will, that he will make it happen.  “By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” we “present our requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)  Our prayer moves the universe, and this is one reason we pray, because when we ask, we receive.  But let us remember a few things about this.

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1. First, let us give glory to God.

2. Second, let us first do our very best to align our desires with God’s will.

3. Third, let us remember that our presentation to God of our desires will be greatly helped by the Holy Spirit, who speaks for us in groans that words cannot express. Let us sometimes stop talking, meditate, communicate and let us “be still and know that I am God.”

 

12/6/17

Published January 9, 2018 on www.disciplestoday.org

Bringing Back the Stray

Douglas Jacoby - Marietta, Georgia, USA

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Since the Lord restores our souls (Psalm 23), and those who are spiritual ought to restore the brother caught in sin (Galatians 6:2), bringing back the those who have strayed isn't restoration in the original sense of the word. Keep in mind:

  • To bring back the stray is Christ-like.
  • This is a process of freeing a drifting brother or sister (Hebrews 2:1) from the allure of the world and bringing him or her back to the fold. This process takes time. It is much more than simply adding someone’s name back to the membership list based on assurances of future commitment.
  • It is to be carried out gently (Galatians 6:2). This means caring for the individual, hearing him or her out, not rushing but carefully retracing steps back to the place he or she got off the narrow road. More often than not, those wishing to return to the fold already have plenty of guilt and shame. They need assurance, not an “I-told-you-so” telling off (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).
  • Not all Christians are able to bring back the stray. Maturity, experience, and spirituality are essential. This is a pastoral duty, though not necessarily limited to church leaders.
  • All Christians are “shepherds” of the flock in some sense. Many congregations contain plenty of mature Christians, and these are the ones who will be most qualified to bring the wanderers home.
  • The process itself is somewhat precarious by its very nature. The temptation to over-identify with the lapsed disciple, taking on his attitudes or championing his grievances, is more than some disciples can handle. In some cases, the sin in which the person to be restored must relinquish is still ongoing.

Practicals

  • Always ask, What are the causes of the person’s leaving the church? We must make sure that we are dealing with true causes, not symptoms. Otherwise, after being welcomed back, they may slip back into the same well-worn ruts.
  • Remember that God holds the individual responsible for quitting—no matter what (Romans 2:5ff).
  • Sometimes it is largely a leader’s fault. Shepherds, through harsh leadership, can scatter the sheep (Ezekiel 34). In addition, sometimes people fall through the sin or lack of forgiveness of another (Luke 17).
  • False teaching also has a role in dragging many back to the world (2 Peter 2:1-3).
  • Spiritual “starvation” (1 Corinthians 3:2) may also be an issue. Lack of proper appetite may be a factor, but so may lack of proper diet. Milk and meat are both needed. Shallow preaching and or humanistic leadership inhibit our potential to grow. (Still, the onus is on the individual.)
  • Always speak to those who were involved in the person’s life before he lapsed. Realize, in addition, that in some cases there are “two sides” to the story (Proverbs 18:17). Make sure you are properly informed.
  • Call for additional help as required.
  • If someone is not open to returning at the moment, “leave the light on and the door open”! (The Parable of the Lost Son shows the example.) Don’t be resentful or take sinful decisions personally. This only causes us to turn a cold shoulder to them, and it prohibits them from coming back.
  • Be urgent to see the person progress, but don’t rush him. Beware of flash-in-the-pan decisions. Give them time to once again implement spiritual disciplines (personal devotional times, to begin with) and to re-integrate the church schedule into their own routine.
  • Study the Bible together. Pray together. Expect them to do the same on their own.
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  • When they have true conviction, they will probably start sharing their faith with their friends again.
  • If the lapsed Christian is married, ask the spouse what he or she thinks about the change. The spouse probably has a better vantage point from which to evaluate what is going on than anyone else.
  • While not withholding gentle assistance, expect the individual to exhibit initiative. Ultimately, it is not hand-holding that will set them back on the path to the Lord’s heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).

Conclusion
In most cities around the world there are not only active Christians, but also a number of men and women who have turned back from following the Lord. We must reach these individuals to “save their souls from death and cover over multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

Shared from www.douglasjacoby.com, originally posted March 1, 2015

Photo Credits: Stray sheep on the railway track at Bryn-y-Felin Bridge,
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © David Tyers 

Bible open to Psalm, CC0 Public Domain

Teaching the Importance of Women Teaching Women

The following transcription is part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," taught on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Kay McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA 

 

I’m so thankful for this opportunity to speak because women need to teach, too; and women need to hear women teach.
There is a big difference between men and women. There’s a difference in how we hear things, in what we want to hear about. Women understand each other. Women understand, (for example) that crying can be fun. Women understand -- going to the bathroom in groups. Women understand --  sometimes you just have to drive to another gas station because this one is just "too icky!"
Women need a little bit of help to be happy. It’s kind of easy for men to be happy: they have one mood, all the time. For men, wrinkles add character; a five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. Men can do their nails with a pocket knife; and men have freedom of choice concerning growing a moustache.
Women know that any conversation with women will eventually lead to something about menopause, childbirth, or the monthlies – it will just go there. 
So we need to hear from women; and women need to teach.
Teaching others is the greatest act of optimism that we can do. When you teach, you learn twice.
I am grateful for the men in our fellowship who are providing opportunities for women to teach women. I am grateful for the brothers on the Teachers Service Team who have welcomed the women’s input, who want to hear the women’s voices, want to hear the female perspective. I am thankful for my husband, Randy McKean, who always wants to provide an opportunity for the women to teach. He’s always saying, "the women need to teach the women."  I hope that brothers across the fellowship will realize that it takes planning, creativity, sometimes it takes money, to allow the women to teach.  
Jesus knew that women want to be taught. In Luke, chapter ten, when Jesus is teaching Mary, it says, “Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” She took a disciple’s posture to the rabbi, sitting at his feet, I’m sure in that conversation Jesus wasn’t just talking about female topics, he was talking about devotion to God, how to live their lives. 
In John 4,  Jesus engaged in a religious debate with the Samaritan woman, and then that woman went off and she asked a question, which I think sometimes we overlook.  She told the people in the village, “Could this be the Christ?” That indicates to me that she had an understanding, a learning, of what the Messiah was going to be like, and she wanted to talk to other people about it.
In Luke 24 at the resurrection, when the angels said to the women, “Remember how he told you that he would be killed;” if you look at the context of when Jesus had said that,  it was in the context of teaching a lot of things. I think it’s important to understand that women teaching other women shouldn’t just be about female-oriented things; it’s deeper, it’s theological. We want to learn, we want to study. 
It helps us to learn from other women. We love hearing the men, we’ll never stop loving hearing the men; we also need to hear from one of our own.
1 Peter 4:8 reads, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I am not sharing this scripture for this reason, but since I just read it, Randy and I just wrote a book called Radical Love. You can find out more about it here. 
In this scripture, 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV), it goes on to say, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The point I want to talk about today is the fact that when we teach, the women who do teach, we need to give it our very best, give it our very heart, we need to know that we are teaching something so wonderful, we have this opportunity to share the best news in the world and we need to do it well.
We need to speak it clearly: Colossians 4:4. We often talk about speaking boldly,  but Paul also said “clearly,” and that requires planning and foresight, study and research, looking things up and really digging deep, so that we can provide for the women something more than a clever little three-point alliteration of something. Women want something deep, they need it, they’re hungry for it and they want it.
There was a period of time when I was in a particular church,  attending midweeks. I wasn’t in the full-time ministry at the time, I was working (a secular job),  attending midweeks.  You go home, you try to fix dinner, you go to midweek,  and it’s -- blah. Somebody threw something together at the last minute. And I remember feeling: I wanna be fed! I need something, I need God’s word tonight, I’ve been beat up by the world, I need to be built up by God’s  word! And I thought, if I ever get the opportunity to teach again, I’m gonna learn from this. I’m going to know that, in my little church, when the  women come together, they have been fighting traffic, they have been working at a hard job, they run home, they feed their kids, they grab them into the car, they get to church — I don’t want them to come and not be fed and given to, I want them to know it’s worth it!
I also want to expect a little bit of them too: I want them to learn something. My own personal opinion:I love the fact that we have technology. I love seeing the scriptures up on the screen, but I love seeing people say, “Oh, he said 1 Timothy, let me turn there.” It can be a paper Bible, an electronic Bible, an iPad, iPod or whatever, but people need to look at it, they need to turn to it, they need to know where in the world is 1st Timothy. They don’t do that if we just flash scriptures up on the screen and don’t give them time. I want to follow along, that’s what really appealed to me as a young Christian.  I was thinking, “I can learn this.” We used to sit there with our Bibles and our notebooks, we were engaged!” Just my opinion. 
There’s a song I love: “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love; I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.” I love to tell the story. Can I just ask that we remember, when we tell the story, it’s good news? Sometimes the way we tell the story is -- blaaaahhhhh! We need to lift people up when we speak to them, and help them to know it’s good news. 
Here are some examples of a few of the curriculum pieces that I’ve developed over the years.  I’ve done studies on:

  • Genesis , chapter by chapter 
  • Esther 
  • Questions that Jesus asked. a whole year of studying the questions that Jesus asked people, and talking about how those are questions to us as well 
  • I’ve done studies on women of the Bible (It would be really great for the men one day to do a study on the women of the Bible) 
  • For a whole year in our church we had a theme of “Believe;” and so for the women’s classes we spelled our the word “Believer.”  B was for Beginning; E was Enmity; L was for Land, I was for Instruction; E was for Entrance; V (we did several classes) on villains and heroes (the books of Judges and Kings); E stood for Exile and R for return, we went through the whole Old Testament in a year. It was a great deeper study. 
  • I’m doing a series on “I’m Possible” right now.

I hope that you agree and appreciate the need for women to teach, to find the opportunities, to make it good. 
I love teaching.  I don’t think I’m the most scholarly or anything; I always say I go to the Teachers’ meetings —  I don’t have any letters after my name.   I’ve just been reading the Bible a long time, that’s all I can say.
There’s a legendary cellist named Pablo Casals, who was asked, when he was 90 years old,  why do you keep practicing day after day, you’re 90 years old! His response was, “because I think I’m making progress.” And that’s how I feel about teaching. I keep doing it, I think I’m making progress, but I have a long way to go.   
Thanks. 

Including the Context of Redemptive Grace in our Teaching and Preaching

The following transcription is part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," taught on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Ed Anton -- Hampton Roads, Virginia, USA 

Ed and Deb Anton

Ed and Deb Anton


I come to you from a perspective, really, chiefly, as an evangelist, as a church leader. A lot of times I find myself incidentally in the Teaching Ministry. We all teach, whether we’re leading a Bible talk or putting on an MTA (Ministry Training Academy) or similar event.  We all do teach in some way or another.
More importantly than just teaching, the big picture is that we want to see the church grow up into the full stature of Christ. This is massive, and we have an amazing opportunity to take the church from an adolescent phase, in some cases, to a bullet-proof, rock-solid maturity where we can stand, and not just stand, but make a stand, to really change the world. 
In Colossians 1: 3 (ESV) Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel…”
We can hear the word “gospel” and it can kind of just fall off of us, with familiarity, and the contempt that comes from familiarity. But every time we hear “gospel,” we should be blown away that we get to have the gospel! It’s the most counterintuitive construct of religion that has ever existed under heaven, and we’ve got it! There is no other approach to man and God that is an approach of a covenant of grace, and that’s the good news, that’s the gospel: that we’re saved not by works, we’re saved by love. Because God loved us, and intervened and disrupted and interrupted, before anything that we could have done that was wondrous or Spirit-filled, we, in our depravity, were saved by love. And not only that, he arranged time and space so that our eyes could be flung open and we could even see how it is that he saved us by love, and ultimately be brought to a place where we surrender over completely to that, and live forever in that covenant.


We’re pretty good as a movement – as a matter of fact, I would say that we are phenomenal as a movement -- at being able to help people appreciate how big grace is, as they come to the waters of baptism. Nobody, nobody can touch it. Do you think that somebody who has this kind of little-surfacey-altar-call has actually instilled the beauty of love and the beauty of grace and the beauty of debt-free living by just -- “Come forward??” Thoughtlessly, in some cases, or only with emotion? But we, unlike any other great pursuit of Christianity right now, we really do understand, as the woman in Luke 7 understood: she who has been forgiven little loves little, but she or he who has been forgiven much loves much. And when we are forgiven, my goodness, we get it!
I was having a discussion with a group of  very mature brothers the other morning, and we were in Hebrews 9, where there is this beautiful passage that talks about how, in the Old Covenant, the blood of bulls and heifers could not cleanse the conscience; but it did actually cleanse from the outward manifestation of sin. But in the New Covenant, we are cleansed not only from unintentional sin, but from sins that lead to death. That’s the difference in Hebrews 9 there: not only does it cleanse our debt, but also cleanses us from sins that lead to death. By the way, in the Old Covenant, do you know what the recourse was, if you committed an intentional sin? Death. Or Goodbye from Community.
But we actually have the mechanism through grace, by which, not only is our debt forgiven, but our consciences are clean. Why? It says, so that we may serve the living God. So we grow up in that kind of maturity, we head into baptism with that kind of maturity, realizing we have been saved by love -- and boy, have we been saved, and how much it is that we have been saved by!
I asked the brothers at this breakfast, “Do you have any conscious issues that hold you back from serving God from sins that you committed prior to your baptism?” And one after another with an honest take, they said, I do not. I said, that’s terrific. How about sins that you committed after baptism? and everyone said,  “Oh I do. Over the top. I even wonder if I should even be at this breakfast right now having a discussion with you guys.” 
So something is happening with our maturity. My goodness, we come out of the gate great! Our “K-through-Eight” education in the Kingdom of God, we got it going on! But when you get to the secondary school level, then something happens, the wheels fall off the cart. We have not been able to appreciate the power of grace after baptism.
I think one of the things that’s helpful for us to realize too, If we’re going to be brought from “Immature” to “I Mature,” is the idea that Christ died for my sins (Romans 4:25) but he was raised -- for what? 
He was raised for my justification.
He died for my sins, but was raised for my justification. 
There’s two really amazing things that happen (among many others) when you are regenerated in Christ. When you are baptized, not only are your sins credited to Christ, but his righteousness is then credited to you. Not just credited to you, but then, through the Holy Spirit, the ability to attain to that righteousness, and not just to claim it as a legal standard, but actually to grow into and live out that righteousness, is given to you as well. You come out of that baptism not just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned, but you come out of that baptism, really regarded in the heavenly realms, just-as-if-I’d healed the leper; fed the 4000; fed the 5000; raised the widow of Nain’s son, so she could have life and family again; just-as-if -I’d brought Lazarus back; just-as-if-I’d lifted the woman bent over for all of those years; just-as-if-I’d…!
Jesus came as a man and lived an entire life of street-cred righteousness, not for no reason -- he was even baptized – why? To fulfill all righteousness. Why? Because he was bundling all of that up and giving it to you. As you rise up. But most of us, we walk out of our baptism thinking: “Yes! I’m a blank slate! I’m a vacuum! Yes! I have nothing on my record whatsoever!” 
But you do. You have the righteous record of Jesus and the Spirit that will only accelerate that in your life. But when we don’t recognize the addition portion of grace and only the subtraction portion of grace, it’s very easy to remain rather immature. So what we’ve been trying to do is, in this past year, really help in everything we do, whether it’s a quiet time or a discipleship time, a devotional, or in some public discourse of preaching and teaching, to bring home the gospel of grace. Going on here in Col 1:6, it says, this gospel  “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (ESV)
Now I know we say this all the time, “Oh I don’t get grace, in the church we don’t get grace.” I really think we can nail this thing. I think that we are in such a great position as a body of Christ to be able to take grace and to see it turbo-charged, not only for the benefit of our maturity but also our spread of the good news as well. 
Why?  because other churches, or families of churches,  that may go after grace, they’ve never actually gotten obedience. We already have that down: “What’s the Bible say? I’m getting after it, halleluia, amen, I love it, it’s clear, I’m getting it, and I’m fired up about it, 
And yeah, on some bad days I may feel dutiful;  but if it’s obedience, I’m getting after it.”

Do you realize how rare that is?? But that is our culture! Yes! the blessings of obedience! Yes, the clarity of what we need to do with the word of God! Now what if we poured gasoline on that, and created a fire with the grace of God burning within us?

Here’s, sadly, what I’ve neglected in all of my Biblical exegesis teaching, expository preaching, and teaching.  I have completely neglected the redemptive or the grace context of the Bible. What do I mean by that:  Do we not believe that this whole Bible is orchestrated together, just right, by God? Do we not? Do we not realize that all of it is fitting together and all of it tells a vital story? And that story is: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they live happily ever after. There is an epic narrative that is the story of God and you. Creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Fall, redemption, restoration – restoration, of course, being the consummation of all things. 
Here is what I have neglected as I have tried to teach the Bible in probably the last 15 to 18 years: as I teach context, context, context, over and over again, as I teach, how to read the Bible, context, context, context, and my context is historical: what was the historical setting, who was writing to whom, where did they live, what was going on, was there idolatry, was there pagan religion, what was the situation that was there? Learn it,  bring it to life, make it memorable, let the movie of your mind play as you hear what it was that they heard, as they listened to Jesus at his feet, or as they received the letter from Paul in their fellowship -- what must that have been like? I felt like I was pretty good at that.  I knew where to go and to get the resources and really bring it to life. 
And then the literary context as well: why this, why here, how does it flow in the bigger story, what is going on, how does it connect, to see some of the really cool connections within the flow of that book or argument or psalm, or song,  how does this help us to understand the greater whole? 
But that’s where it stopped. And for anyone who would then go and walk back and try to look at the redemptive context, I was critical of those people. I was thinking they were freewheeling it a little bit too much. Just get in the text, stay in the text, trust the text, and that’ll do the trick. 
But that was my own definition of what it meant to “be in the text, stay in the text.” To “be in the text and stay in the text” is to look at the full text. It’s to look at the whole story, the full story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and ultimately they live happily ever after. 
There may be things in the Old Testament that may not look at all like grace or like “boy gets girl back” or “they live happily every after.” You may not see any of that there. But when you watch a romantic comedy and you watch it a couple of times, and then you see the bone-headed move by that guy, and how he pocket-dialed the girl --  all it is showing is the fallen nature of that relationship. Knowing what’s going to happen later, it helps you appreciate, despite that bone-head move, that there’s still going to be the white picket fence, the happily ever after. Despite that call that he made and left on her answering machine. That’s what the Bible is for us, it’s not just a one-act play. We need to look at it in its totality. If we take our eyes off that, we’re going to stop marveling. We’ll end up looking at the little story, and you know what we’ll have? All we’ll have is: “You need to be careful that you don’t dial somebody in the middle of the night.”  And then the lesson becomes a moralizing lesson. “You need to put up better boundaries, you need to fix your phone, You need to be more diligent about not calling in the middle of the night.” But that’s not the gospel of grace. And if that’s all that we preach – “Don’t call in the middle of the night, be like Joseph, be like David,” wihout looking at the full context, then all we’re doing is what’s called “moralizing.” We’re putting together a moral tale, and what we’re saying, is, if you try harder, if you do better, then I’m going to approve of you better, and so is Jesus. 
“Ding!” 
And subtly, when we do it, then I do it in my quiet times as well, and in my discipleship times. I think, here’s a great scripture. Now try harder. Here’s another great scripture, now try harder. If that’s what it’s going to be, we’re going to be forever young. And that’s not a good thing. We’re going to be the Peter Pan church of Christ. But I believe, as we can start to be able to appreciate the fullness of the redemptive context, we can move from a gospel of grit -- “if I do good, then I’ll be worthy” – to a gospel of grace: “I am worthy, therefore I do good.”

Even the way Paul does it: if we’re looking at Ephesians, in Ephesians 1, 2, and 3, there is not a single command in all those chapters. No imperatives, almost all indicatives, and it’s all amazing. You’re chosen, you’re predestined, you’re Spirit-filled, you’re marked, you are adopted, you are redeemed, you’re his sons, you’re the ones he loves, you are his workmanship, you are his masterpiece; therefore -- and in Chapter Four is the pivot point -- therefore live a life worthy of the calling by which you’ve been called. “Live a life worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called” is in the context of,  “look at who you are, you have been redeemed, this is who you are in Christ.” Identity drives duty, duty doesn’t develop identity; and with that identity given to us, the more we can recognize this, we think, oh my goodness, this is who I am, what wouldn’t I do for Jesus? Oh my goodness, I want to run through a wall for Jesus! Knowing who I am right now, come on! Bring on the commands, bring on the clarity, I can’t wait to see it, I wanna go after it and live the life that I was always meant to live, knowing what it is that I have been made in Christ! And when that fire begins to burn, and we preach the gospel to ourselves, over and over and over again, every quiet time, every discipleship time, not leaving out the greater redemptive context in all that we do…[we will become mature].
One last thing I want to mention here: grace is an interesting concept, because you may think that there is much of Christendom that is better than you are at preaching grace. But let me level it. I don’t really think they are. And it’s not because I am chauvanistic in this, but because I really have tried to study this. And basically, the best that most of Christendom has done, to try to make grace more of a motivator, is to make grace a credit card with a higher limit. I think you can go ahead and test that – whatever sermon, book, whatever you want to look at. It is kind of a simplistic way of putting it, what it comes down to. In the first century, the people that would have heard “charis,” grace, they would have understood it as something very different [that what most of Christendom understands today]. As a matter of fact, “charis” – it’s like, today we say money makes the world go around. In the first century you would probably say, “charis” makes the world go around. Because “charis” is the idea that grace -- (when you get a chance, read through 2 Corinthians 8 and you’ll see all aspects of this) -- “charis” is not only the free gift, given from a benefactor to a beneficiary, but it’s more. 
This is the way it would have been understood through the ears of someone living in Corinth or Athens or Berea or wherever; it would not only be the gift given, but when you use the word grace, it would have been applied to the welling up in your heart of gratitude. That was also called “charis.” The reception of it and the gratitude was grace. 
But that’s not where it ended, there was another aspect of grace that was immediately part of the equation and could not be ripped away, and it was the immediate overwhelming desire, even beautiful obligation, to give in return. How can I give back in return, someway, somehow? How is it that can I do that? It creates a tighter and tighter bond of intimacy that gets ever deeper and strengthens the relationship between the two parties. It is, in the first century, in an honor-and-shame society, one of the great shames, to break that cycle of grace. And likewise for us. 
So grace actually has teeth, beautiful teeth – teeth that bring you -- or hooks, even -- that bring you to a place where you always wanted to be. It creates a wonderful obligation of intimacy and excitement. 
I recently had this as an experience. Deb and I had a van. It had 331,000 miles, it died, it was too bad, we were going to go down to one car. But then we had a brother in our ministry come to us and say that he was going to trade in a really nice car that he had, a big car (and we needed a big car) and he said, you know, instead of trading it in, I’m going to give it to you guys. We’re like, Aaaah! You know, you feel weird in those situations, you get weird, you get proud; but we decided: we’re going to kind of swallow deep and receive this gift. You know what it did to our relationship? It didn’t weird it out. My ears were always open to what encourages that family: Yes!! we found something that encourages them! Not like, ‘Ohhh, we gotta make the donuts…” It was like, Yes! We found something! Let’s do this! Let’s go by! Let’s do this! Let’s share! Let’s mention! And then to see the joy in their eyes as well; and then it created that dance of grace that only strengthens things again and again and again. If we can understand this, I think this is a component of grace that we’ll look forward to developing more over time. 
Let me just close with this idea, that if we’re going to go on to maturity, I’m not suggesting that we throw out any old hermeneutics or any old exegesis, I’m just saying let’s do the extra work, not just the historical or literary context. Do the extra work and really look at the redemptive context. Maybe this makes it more profound, how boy lost girl, and it makes you appreciate it what’s going to happen later when boy gets girl back. Or maybe it is actually a picture of them living happily ever after, and we paint that beautiful picture of Jesus’ return and what that’s going to be like for us, and with that identity, my goodness, what wouldn’t we want to do to be able to serve this great God! But if we don’t make this our culture, every quiet time, every discipleship time, every public discourse, then we are going to so easily fall into a pattern of performance. Not because it’s our church’s issue, but because it’s everybody’s issue. This is not unique to us. You didn’t get an A in Physics from your teacher on Day One, and then he said,  “Wow, I bet now that you know that that’s your identity, you’re really going to live up to it.” Nothing happens that way in the world! This is a rare, counter-intuitive thing, we have to really fight to be able to get to this place.

 

Salt

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Part 1 of 2
By Kay S. McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA


“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
Isak Denison

salt-hand-food-white


     An old French folktale tells of a mighty king who adored his only daughter. The princess returned his love, and one day as they were dining together in the great hall, the princess declared: “I love you like salt!” The king was confused, and then angered by this statement. Salt is just a useless rock, he thought. It’s nothing important!  He felt so slighted by this statement that he banished the princess from his kingdom. She tearfully ran away, never to be seen again. Years later, the king was at war with the surrounding kingdoms, and his castle was besieged. He could not receive the supplies that he was reliant on, even the things that he did not know he needed, and one of those things was salt. Without it, the livestock and the people were sick and dying. Only then did he realize the value and depth of his daughter’s love. 
     When Jesus said, “Salt is good,” (Mark 9:50 NIV), he knew what he was talking about. Although we are bombarded with warnings about too much salt in our diet, it’s a mistake to assume that salt is bad. In fact, almost every part of the human body contains salt. Salt is a necessary component in the functioning of our cells. Without both water and salt, our cells cannot get nourishment and we would die of dehydration. Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl); chloride is essential for digestion and respiration, and sodium, which the body cannot manufacture by itself, causes the body to transport nutrients and oxygen. We lose salt from our bodies constantly through bodily functions, and it must be replaced in order for us to be in good health. Salt has been needed from ancient times to preserve foods, to provide flavor, and as an antiseptic to cleanse wounds. Throughout history, salt has played an important role in economics, politics, and medicine.
     Of course, in modern times so many of our processed foods contain too much sodium, and therefore salt has been given such a bad reputation. But from ancient times, both animals and humans knew they needed it. Many of the first trails that humans followed were made by animals looking for a “salt lick”. How they knew they needed it is a mystery. If a person is starving, they experience hunger and understand the need for food. But if someone is salt-deficient, they will get a headache and feel dizzy, while never really experiencing a “craving” for salt. 
     Today, salt is something that is so easy to obtain, so inexpensive and so common. We can easily forget that in Jesus’ time, it was one of the most sought after commodities. Unfortunately, like salt today, Christianity is often portrayed as common and cheap. But true Christianity is valuable, needed, and crucial for survival. Some people are yearning for that salt, but they don’t know why. They can’t figure out what’s causing that empty, longing feeling. If they don’t discover what they need, they will die. 
   

  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13 NIV) Knowing what we now know about salt in Jesus’ day, this scripture takes on greater significance. Christians are the salt of the earth. Salt is used as a preservative. So Christians have the same role: we are to protect ourselves and others from corruption that comes about by sinful forces in this world. Salt is used in flavoring. So Christians “spice things up” in this world, bringing flavor and savor to the world. Salt also produces thirst. Our presence in this world should make others thirst for Jesus. Without devotion to Jesus and dedication to live according to his word, we lose that saltiness. 
     In the context of Jesus’ approving statement about salt, we understand that he is not giving dietary advice. He is warning us about losing something so valuable that life can’t exist without it. While salt itself doesn’t change its character, it can be diluted and lose its saltiness. Satan works hard to dilute the knowledge and reverence for God, His son Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our faith in Jesus, our devotion to Him and to His will that demonstrates the nature of God to our families and friends. WE ARE the salt of the earth. WE ARE what will change the world for the better. We must not lose that quality by diluting our saltiness! What good are we if we blend in to the world?
      “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV) Can you imagine what life would be like if this was the goal of every conversation? Our speech should be full of grace, which implies that we are merciful and generous to each person we meet, and when we talk about others we haven’t met. But we also are told to “throw a little salt” into our talk. I take that to mean that I must say something that will make people just a little bit thirsty for something more. And of course, that something more is God.
     Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t say to make sure our conversations are seasoned with sugar. We are not on this earth just to be good, nice people, although of course we must be good and nice! We aren’t called to be the sugar of the world, but the salt of the earth!

 

 

References:
http://time.com/3957460/a-brief-history-of-salt/
https://www.britannica.com/science/salt
Mark Kurlansky, “Salt: A World History” Published by Penguin Books, 2003

Photos courtesy of www. pixabay.com. All pictures are released under Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain

Jesus and the Poor, Part One

Part One of a Three-Part Series 

Part One of a Three-Part Series 

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             Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you...” -- Matthew 26:11 (NIV).  Also in Deut. 15:11 we read, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

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            Therefore, it is a given that there will always be impoverished people in the world. A study from the Southern Baptist Convention states, “Nearly one billion people, almost one out of every four persons on earth live in a state of 'absolute poverty.' They are trapped in conditions so limited by illiteracy, malnutrition, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be denied the very potential with which they are born. Almost 20 million people die each year of starvation or hunger related illnesses.”[1]

            But, why should we care? Why should we respond to the needs of the poor?

            There are many social movements around the world that respond to the needs of the poor. But we are Christians. We aren’t a social movement. So, why must we as Christians respond to the needs of the poor?

The question is not, “Why are there so many impoverished people?” (Although that’s a good question.) The question isn’t, “Why are the poor poor?” (Although that is a question worth considering.) The key to proper motivation is answering the question “Why?” Why should I respond to the needs of the poor in the world?

The short answer is—as Christians, we are to live as Jesus lived. In his life, Jesus responded to the needs of the poor. Therefore, we must “Go and do likewise.”

Where do the steps of Jesus lead?  They lead many places.  They lead to a lost world that needs saving.  They lead to young or weak Christians that need discipling.  They lead to families that need strengthening.  But there is one place where the steps of Jesus always lead—to the poor.  He stepped forward, stepped toward, and stepped up to meet the needs of the poor.  He stepped toward the sick, the hungry, the naked, those in prison and the dispossessed, the blind, the deaf, the demon-possessed, and those suffering from leprosy.  Jesus stepped toward the poor because he had a compassionate heart.  His heart shows us the heart of God.  He was a living picture of who God is—a compassionate and loving Father. 

Jerry Shirley, a Baptist minister, tells this story:  One day a little girl was drawing a picture, and even skipped recess because she was so focused upon it. Her teacher asked what she was doing and she said she was drawing a picture of God. “Oh honey, you can’t do that...no one knows what God looks like.” The little girl held up the picture and said, “They do now!”[2]

            That’s what Jesus does for us.  He draws us a picture of what God looks like.  He shows us who God is.  God is compassionate.  Jesus is compassionate.  Jesus ministered to the needs of people.  If we are following in his steps, we will minister to the needs of people as well.  That’s who Jesus was.  It’s who his people ought to be. 

 

             Let’s look at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to get a picture of what his life and ministry were like.  Let’s read Matthew 4:12-25.   Verse 23 summarizes the ministry of Jesus.  Matthew writes, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”  The ministry of Jesus can be thought of as having three tiers or layers—teaching, preaching, and healing.  Think of it as a triangle.  Look again at Matthew 4:12-25, where all these elements are present:

"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.  Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the way to the sea, along the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.'

 From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'

 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.'  At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,  and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.  Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him." -- Matthew 4:12-25 (NIV)

 

            Jesus took care of the whole person.  In the words of Matthew, Jesus met the needs of  “all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.”  Jesus healed the hurts of people.  That was who he was.  He was compassionate and loving.  He touched lepers, restored sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, brought the sick back to health, freed the demon-possessed, allowed the deaf to hear. Whole towns showed up at his doorstep.  People came from miles and miles to know and experience his compassionate touch.  The hurting cried out when Jesus walked by to make sure they got his attention.  He healed hurts.  Jesus is known as the great Physician for a reason. 

            Jesus went out “teaching, preaching, and healing.”  These were the three aspects to his ministry.  We can’t neglect any one of these aspects of the ministry of Jesus today. 


[1] “Issues and Answers: Hunger” (Nashville: The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, n.d.), p.1

[2]  “How Big Is Your God?” Jerry Shirley,  accessed October 12, 2016, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/how-big-is-your-god-jerry-shirley-sermon-on-commandments-idols-124460.asp

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Jesus and the Poor, Part Two

Part Two of a Three-Part Series 

Part Two of a Three-Part Series 

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            What does Jesus have to say about our response to the poor? Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  Please take a moment and read the parable.

            This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  It has influenced the world so much that when you say someone is a “Good Samaritan,” everyone knows what you mean.  That’s a person who goes out of his or her way to help someone they don’t even know.  Wouldn’t it be great if the word “Christian” were held in such high esteem as the phrase “Good Samaritan!”  Christians and “Good Samaritan” should be synonymous because both should mean, “we love our neighbor as ourselves.” 

            This old Jericho road still exists today.  One day, my wife Leigh and I took the kids and another couple and we had a devotional there, reenacting the story of the Good Samaritan.  My kids wanted to be the robbers and not the Good Samaritan.  I should have known we were in for trouble at that point.  Thanks to God’s grace, they are both trying to be Good Samaritans today.    

            Jesus commands us to love our neighbor.  That is a direct command.  To justify himself, the lawyer in the parable asks, “Okay, Jesus, but who is my neighbor?”  Does it sound a bit like some of us who ask, “Now who exactly are the poor?  Are they the poor in the church or those outside it?  Who am I obligated to help?”  Jesus shows what it means to love our neighbor.  To love our neighbor means to help those who are in need and to step outside nationalistic, religious, ethnic, social, cultural borders to do so.  To love your neighbor means you step up to meet needs. 

            The priest and the Levite are callous to the needs of the injured man.  They step back, step around, and step away from him.  They don’t step where Jesus would have stepped.  Here’s the “Aha” moment of the story—a Samaritan loves his neighbor.  Someone outside the covenant community demonstrates the love of Jesus, while those in the covenant community are hard-hearted and callous. 

            The priest and the Levite literally turned away from their own flesh and blood.  They stepped back, stepped around, and stepped away from the man who was hurting.  A Samaritan was the neighbor who loved.  And at the end of the discussion is the directive of Jesus.  “Go and do likewise.”

            The priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan each had the capacity and means to help the needy man. Each had the opportunity to help.  What was the difference between the religious leaders and the Samaritan?  Heart and action.   On the one side we have callousness, apathy, and coldness.  On the other, compassion, care, and concern. On the one side, inaction. Stepping back, stepping away, stepping over, and stepping around. On the other side, action. Stepping toward, stepping forward, and stepping up.  Stepping in the steps of Jesus.  Jesus extols the Good Samaritan and commands his disciples to imitate him saying, "Go and do likewise."

            “Go and do likewise.”  That is the teaching of Jesus on meeting the needs of the needy.  “Go and do.”  Which will you be -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan?  Which will we be as the church -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan?  Will we step back, step away, step around, and step over the poor, the needy, and the hurting?  Or, will we step up, step forward, step toward those who need our help?  Will we walk in the steps of Jesus?  The steps of Jesus lead to the sick, the blind, the crippled, the leprous, the demon-possessed, and the poor.  Jesus stepped up, stepped forward, and stepped toward those in poverty. 

            We must evangelize the world. We must strengthen, teach, and disciple our churches.  We must minister to the needs of the poor.  None of these are optional.

            Allow the words of Jesus at the conclusion of the Good Samaritan to ring in your ears, “Go and do likewise.”  “Go and do likewise.”

 

 

 


Jesus and the Poor, Part Three

Final Installment of a Three-part Series 

Final Installment of a Three-part Series 

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            Some have stated that they fear that if we emphasize the healing ministry of Jesus too much, then we will lose our focus on evangelism.  If we give too much of our resources to help the poor, then we won’t have enough to evangelize the world.  But Jesus did both.  He is our model.  We are to walk in his steps.  God has the resources for us to evangelize the world and to help the poor.  Psalm 50:11 says the whole world is God’s and everything in it. 

            I have a different fear.  I fear the greed and materialism of our Western world crushing our compassion for the poor and the lost.  I fear us becoming a big, fat, greedy, materialistic institutionalized denomination that has stopped practicing the compassion and love of Jesus because we are disconnected from the poor, the starving, the sick, the naked, the uneducated, and the dying, hundreds of thousands of people on this planet that we step over, step away from, and step around each day, instead of allowing our hearts to be moved by their situation and stepping up to help them.  That’s what I fear.

            I fear the “American Dream,” that says we are entitled to enjoy our wealth while others fight to survive on nothing.  The “American Dream” might be our worst nightmare.  I fear us getting so enamored with nice things that we lose sight of the millions and millions of people who have no-thing.  Jesus never challenged us to fear helping the poor, but he did challenge us to be aware the deceitfulness of wealth.  Perhaps if we would get back into the Bible and be a people of the Book then we would learn what we ought to be afraid of -- namely, materialism, the love of money, the deceitfulness of wealth, the hoarding up of possessions, and greed, which is idolatry.  Helping the poor, seeing the faces of the poor, caring for the poor, will remind us of those materialistic evils that can destroy our hearts and cost us our souls.   

            There is always the potential to drift away from the teaching of Scripture. I get that.  That’s why we have to constantly go back to the Word and check what we are doing with the Word.  It’s always safe to take it back to the Bible.  It’s always safe to take it back to Jesus.  What would Jesus do?  Where do the steps of Jesus lead?  As I get older, all I want to do is to learn more and more to be and act like Jesus.  I want to sit at his feet and learn from him.  I love the gospels and spend most of my time in the gospels.  I want to be with Jesus, not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now. 

            If I want to walk in the steps of Jesus, his steps lead to the poor. His steps don’t lead around the poor or away from poor. They lead directly to the poor. Jesus went preaching, teaching, and healing. We need to embrace the healing ministry of Jesus and do our part to go and live as Jesus lived.