Great Commissions

“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.  (Luke 24:49-53 NASB)

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.  And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20 NASB)

Have you ever been bored?  When we consider that we’ve got all the people-groups of the world in whom to make disciples, how could we be bored.  And yet, I’m bored more often than I care to admit.  How can that be?

The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28 has a counterpart in Luke24.  While the one in Matthew is familiar, we often miss some important elements.  For instance, we’re supposed to go and make disciples.  If you would like some clarity on what that means, check out my blog entry on the topic of disciples here.  It’s not as nice and easy as it might sound.

In Luke 24, the commission sounds slightly different.  In verses 47 through 48, the commission is to proclaim repentance into forgiveness of sins to all nations in His name.  The concept of “disciples” isn’t mentioned.  That the proclamation goes into all nations is consistent.  In reality, though, repentance is what disciples do, and do for the rest of their time here on earth.  So, actually, the two commissions have more in common than appears on the surface.

All this to come back around to my original question.  Have you ever been bored?  As I mentioned, I am bored in a shameful frequency.  The sad truth is that those living close to me are probably not disciples, nor have they had “repentance into forgiveness” proclaimed to them.  At least they haven’t heard this from me.

I’m simply thinking that I can’t be bored while my neighbors haven’t heard.  If they’ve heard and reject, that’s one thing.  But if I haven’t even tried, then why would I be bored? If I really believe Jesus is all I teach in this blog, then I should be busier telling others about repentance into forgiveness.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week XXVI

Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”  So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”  Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” (Luke 23:1-4 NASB)

Having concluded that Jesus claims to be God, and therefore, deity, the religious leaders take Him to Pilate for execution.  The problem is that claiming to be a foreign god isn’t a “hanging offense” under Roman law.  But rebels are punished pretty quickly, so they accuse Jesus of sedition (just to be able to use that word in a sentence).

Their initial accusations refer back to some of their confrontations during the week, like paying taxes.  But others refer to Jesus as claiming to be a king, and that He claims to be an “anointed one”.  Being anointed does have meaning in Roman and Greek culture, just not exactly the same meaning.  Anointing for Greeks and Romans is what you did with medicine on a wounded person.  But the Romans were very aware of the political ramifications of anointing to the Jews.  So when the Jewish leaders say, “king”, Pilate begins his interrogation.

The Problem for Pilate is that when asked, Jesus doesn’t go frothing-at-the-mouth crazy.  That would have made the job easier, and it’s what others did.  But instead, Jesus is calmly saying yes in an oblique manner.  So, Pilate returns and says he finds no guilt in Jesus.

In other Gospels, more detail is supplied about Pilate’s predicament.  His wife warns him to stay out of it.  Jesus has no problem with Pilate’s authority, and claims His kingdom is from another realm (does Pilate think He’s nuts?).  Regardless which Gospel you read, Pilate does not have a rebel before Him, only rabid religious leaders.  The ones frothing-at-the-mouth crazy, inciting a riot among the people, are the ones seeking to have Jesus crucified.  It’s a tragic irony.  And at some point, it really comes down to keeping the peace during the festival.

Still, Pilate will be trying other means to apply a modicum of justice to the event.  Of course, it won’t work.  Unbeknownst to everyone but Jesus, He has an appointment with a cross, at a particular hour on that that specific day.  It’s an appointment set when the universe was created, to be heralded by signs in the sun and moon.  How could Pilate know?  How could the religious leaders have known?  Jesus knew.  Jesus sees this act unfold exactly as written by the Playwright of Heaven.  But Jesus also knows this isn’t His final act.

When confronted with social and cultural pressure to disavow Jesus, what do we do?  Far too often, we do the expedient thing.  In order to not be offensive, we decide to prevent a riot, to keep the peace.  Too many things go wrong with that behavior.  The “reasonable” believers are stuck in the middle between rabid-frothing-at-the-mouth religious nuts wanting to kill everyone disagreeing with them, and the comfortable religious sanguine group who sell out the practice of their faith in Jesus to a bowl of mixed nuts.  Many in the middle are caught between the desire to simply minister to the hurts of humanity, and the clamor for lies in the society at large.

Jesus neither held a sign saying “God hates everybody”, nor did He simply “go along to get along” with the religious leaders.  He wandered the region healing, preaching the truth, raising the dead, and casting out demons.  Jesus set a course, and everyone else could either get on board or watch from the dock as He left them behind.  He invited some, some of those accepted His invitation, and others didn’t.  But He didn’t deviate from His goal, His appointment with a cross.

I suspect our problem is more about not having that sense of divine goal or purpose.  We don’t seek the definitions of our lives which only our Master provides.  When we do, we don’t like the answers we get.  The purpose is behind us, but we won’t turn around.  The goal lies in a direction we’ve already rejected, so we don’t see it.  We look without turning the head or lifting the clutter of our lives.  What we want is for our Master to confirm our goals and purposes.  What He wants is for us to follow Jesus to a cross.  So, we check our calendars for the first opening we can find.  But, finding no convenient time to be tortured to death, we ask for another goal or purpose.  In a sense, we, once again, choose from the tree providing us the right and power to choose good and evil for ourselves.

Life lies at the end of a path through a method of humiliating death.  Death is found on every other path. Discipleship, repentance, and faith are the ingredients resulting in love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  We want those things, but balk at the price God charges.  Will we be crucified with Christ, and no longer live?  Will we live this life in the body by faith in the Son of God who has loved us and gave Himself for us?  We can’t have one with out the other.  That’s just how this play was written.  We can try to write another, but the warning from Scripture is that such a play is always a tragedy.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week XIXc

“But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.  For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”  And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.  And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.  And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.  For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:21-27 NASB)

In Luke, after the inauguration of Communion, there are a lot of elements before the thirteen men leave for the Mount of Olives.  I was going to skip to one of my favorites where Jesus addresses Peter’s later failure, but I think I’ll have an opportunity to get into that next week.  For those who are not familiar with this blog’s use in my own life, this is where I process a Scripture passage I’m using in a Bible study I lead each Thursday.  So, on Fridays, the passage jumps to the next.  But I think I’ll be in the upper room for more than one week.

This passage is also a great one, particularly because it illustrates human nature so well.  Jesus is overcome with grief over His betrayer that He reveals the existence of this man.  We, from reading so far, already know it’s Judas.  The disciples don’t know that yet.  And they begin to discuss which one of them it might be.  This discussion then devolves into an argument about which of them is the greatest.  That’s the basic framework in which Jesus says some pretty amazing things.

Have you ever wondered if there was hope for Judas?  In a previous post, I discuss Judas in some detail, and I refer to what Jesus says here.  Jesus admits that the cross is necessary, and that betrayal is part of how He gets there, but He also condemns the betrayer.  Think about that.  Judas is integral to the plan of God, the God he is betraying.  Jesus makes clear that where He is going “…has been determined…”, but that does not exonerate His betrayer.  As I said in that post, I still believe, Judas was never really a disciple, he was an opportunist.

Now, the second element here, where the disciples’ discussion of which one of them might betray Jesus devolving into an argument about greatness, keep in mind that Luke gets this from a disciple who was there.  What I mean is that, while we think of Paul being Luke’s source, that’s really not possible.  Luke is a “close associate” of Paul, and that gains him entrance into the canon.  But Paul wasn’t Luke’s source.  Rather Luke’s source was also in Jerusalem, like the other sources, and Paul gained Luke access to those sources.  My point is that this account doesn’t put the disciples in a great light, but they “told on themselves”, so I believe it.  Which, by the way, is a consistent feature in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  Both bodies of writing bring out weaknesses of the exemplary characters.

Jesus corrects them with familiar words, used in other places in Matthew and Mark, and resonating vaguely with John’s 3-chapter account in his Gospel.  If you think through what Jesus says, there are some interesting elements unique to Luke in this.  First off, the greatest is as the youngest.  Jesus doesn’t point to a child and a different word is used here tan for “child” or even “young man” or “infant”.  Instead Jesus refers to status among adults.  The “youngest” would be the less experienced, and therefore the least wise, regarded with less honor than the “elders”.  So, Jesus is saying the “elders” (as in the role of elder as leader) are to become as the youngsters, seeking less honor or esteem.  I’m an elder in my church, and this is for me and my fellows.  This is for us, and we need to heed this or fail our church.  Ouch.  Okay, moving on…with crushed toes.

The point to all of this is that we too struggle in the midst of important movements of God.  We miss the point, the importance of the event, the cosmic battle raging around us, and the historic spiritual change about to happen.  God prepares to knock the world on its head, and we’re arguing over carpet, curtains, pews versus chairs, or whether we like sister so-and-so.  We do that.  It might not be chairs, curtains, or carpet, but we do that.  We miss the cosmic spiritual event rising to crescendo because of the earthly physical distraction.  We go there.  It can’t be my failure because, well, I’m not like that, I’m great!  The wheels have fallen off, the train derails, and the catastrophe is just a matter of inertia.

But the alternative exists.  Jesus says that we are to be different.  He says He was at the table as one who serves.  Luke doesn’t say how, but John does.  Jesus began the evening washing their feet.  His point is that those who lead wash feet.  The greatest among their fellow disciples serve with a towel around their waist and a water basin in hand.  In a sense, the elders clean toilets.  They mix it up with people, willing to descend into their messy lives, and bring hope and healing.  It’s Jesus’ directive for every leader, including you.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Spiritual Investing

And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”  Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.”  And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”  (Luke 18:24-30 NASB)

Sometimes, I find that promises in Scripture, from Jesus Himself even, are hard to swallow.  Will I really gain much more than I sacrifice in this life?  I leave my family, goods, and whatnot for the Kingdom of God and I will gain many times as much at this time? Seriously?  I find that strangely at odds with themes we covered prior.  What about the cost of discipleship?  So, I can safely cast away everything now, and have much more at this time not just eternal life in the age to come?

Yes, I doubt. I do.  I’m not apologetic about it, I doubt.  I read the Hebrew Scriptures about how the people followed God, and then fell away.  I see how they were oppressed and cried out and God delivered.  I think of God watching them worship after deliverance, only to have them fall away again, be oppressed, and delivered all over again.  It’s the “Judges Cycle”, but repeated in Samuel and Kings as well.  It happens when the rain doesn’t fall, the crops aren’t ripening, and the grapes and olives fail.  Their neighbors seem fine and worship another god, some storm god, and their crops look good.  So the people hedge their bets and worship both.  I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’ve seen the pattern in my own culture, sometimes even in my own life.

The problem with which I wrestle is what if I don’t receive many times more?  What if God’s promise doesn’t come about?  Peter is crucified upside down, not in a bigger house with a bigger family.  John dies after somehow surviving Patmos with criminals.  The other ten are all killed for their faith, James almost immediately.  Where was the “many times more at this time” that Jesus promised?  I don’t see that but I do see the faithfulness of the ones Jesus told that to.  They heard that, invested, but didn’t record how they experienced that blessing at that time.  We hear later they all died.  Is it a “Role Call of Faith” sort of thing where they all died without seeing what was promised?  Why even put that tidbit in there about “at this time” in the first place?

I struggle with it.  I read it, but I struggle with believing it.  I suppose the answer is to invest and learn what it really means.  Perhaps I need to sacrifice to understand what exactly Jesus meant by gaining much more at this time.  I don’t see it, but trust Him.  I don’t read about how the disciples and followers gained much more of the same sort of thing, but so what?  Do it anyway.  They did.  And they still recorded this promise, do you get that?  This promise of Jesus was heard by all three sources used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And they heard it and the Gospel writers recorded it.  And yet no one felt compelled to explain how it was true in the lives of the disciples.  It was supposed to be obvious without the need for explanation.

So, I don’t get it, but there’s so much that goes into that category.  I don’t really understand how the promise was fulfilled in the life of Peter, James, John, Paul, or the others.  I don’t understand, but I won’t either until I invest, and wait for the return on that investment from my Master.  And so here I go…

What’s your view through this knothole?  What do you learn from this assurance from Jesus that it’s safe to invest everything with Him and for His Kingdom?

The Cost You Don’t See

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  (Luke 18:21-23 NASB)

Back in Luke 14 (25-33) Jesus describes the cost of discipleship.  Here this cost is illustrated.  Jesus discusses with this ruler the way he can inherit eternal life.  The ruler believes that the association necessary to inherit this gift is through something he does. Since he already follows the law, Jesus notes that he recognizes that isn’t enough.  So Jesus adds another, give up everything and follow Me.

Sometimes we think of those extravagant costs Jesus notes as excessive and naively believe He can’t be serious.  But think of that challenge in this way, for what are we willing to sell eternal life in heaven, or for what will we trade heaven later to gain now?  Economically, that’s what we do.  We sell heaven for stuff we have here, but notice what Jesus says, “…and you will have treasure in heaven;” it’s a trade!  But the ruler sold heaven for what he had at hand.

This is the same thing we do when we look at the cost of discipleship and choose something else.  When we decide not to study, to pray, to meet together and make those things priorities; we sell heaven for whatever we do instead.  I’ve heard it lots of times from a wide variety of people that this view is legalistic.  I believe that too is an excuse to ignore it.  Because when I ask them what it means to them, they still aren’t doing even what they believe it means.  But at least they aren’t legalistic.

The truth is that “goods” aren’t always the problem, the thing that keeps us from devotion to Jesus.  But for many, and in our culture many more than most, the ease of our lives takes priority over the discomfort of being a disciple.  I know it does for me.  I know that for many of the decisions I make, my comfort winds up being the priority.  So, I see where my Master is revealing these things to me, where He is moving me, prodding me off my comfortable couch and easy chair, and into His kingdom work.

What keeps you distracted from obedience?  For what are you “selling” eternal life?  For what will you trade to get it, or get it back?  What’s your view through the knothole?

Who Are You Thankful To?

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’  (Luke 18:10-12 NASB)

The point of this parable, as described in the introduction, is that some trust in themselves for their righteousness.  So Jesus contrasts two men from very different segments of their society.  The Pharisee begins his prayer with thankfulness.  That makes sense, until we see what he’s thankful for. He thanks God, but he lists the things he’s thankful for as things he does.  In other words, he sounds right on the front end, but his actual content indicates a huge error.

It’s easy to spot.  It’s easy to criticize in others.  You’ve probably heard the prayers of others with such content.  But have you ever truly analyzed your own prayer content?  I have discovered that mine is often peppered with things I want others around me to know.  Sometimes, in private prayer, I’ve discovered that I’m actually telling God what to do rather than asking for what He wants to do.  Sometimes I’ve tried to “paint God into a corner” so that He is honor-bound to answer my prayer.

Sure, I can poke fun at those who seem to punctuate their prayers with “Lord God” or “Oh Lord”, or whatever.  But I’m discovering that their actual prayers mean a lot more than mine do.  I often find that there is a lot less of them in what they actually say to God than there is of me in what I say.  And before you point out that I’m paying way too much attention, comparing myself to others, may I just point out that I’m also learning what my Master has from me by working out my salvation with others.  I’m learning.  And hopefully, growing in my faith and practice.

See, the problem isn’t my prayer, it’s my heart.  My intent and focus is too much on myself and what I want when I pray like this.  When I notice it in myself or when I realize my prayers so different from others, I realize I’m letting my “old nature” live too much.  It’s part of my repentance, part of my sanctification, part of my death that I learn these lessons.  I must decrease and He must increase; it’s my reality not just the one John the Baptist found himself in.

But this is the path of discipleship.  It’s a path of death by cross that I carry myself.  It’s a life of loving my Master so much it seems I hate my family and myself.  It’s a path where the mind of Christ Jesus wakens in me the compulsion to empty myself and take on the form of a servant.  It’s a life lived in the constant presence of the Creator God of the entire universe, from quarks to galaxies.  It’s actually kind of cool, but it includes these inane examinations of my prayer life to make sure the my nature doesn’t show on the dipstick.

On that note, how’s your prayer life?  What’s your view through the knothole?  Are you more “Pharisee” or “tax collector”?  Oh, and if you think you’re not as bad as me, if that actually went through your brain…well you probably get the point.

Forgiveness

“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4 NASB)

Forgiveness is one of those things Christians are supposed to do that we work really hard to find a way around.  I think we normally ignore the requirement.  Sometimes, increasing our depth of commitment to Jesus, we redefine forgiveness so that we are able to do it.  Rarely do we truly forgive as Jesus intended nor with the the frequency or priority that He places on it.  Rarely.  In fact, we’ve probably done so much damage to the concept few of us really understand it any more.

Boundaries is a book and a teaching by Henry Cloud and John Townsend in which they teach how to set appropriate boundaries in our relationships with others and ourselves.  It’s actually quite biblical.  Few have read it.  Many use the term, and most misuse the term.  Boundaries have become our favorite method of “side-stepping” forgiveness.  We don’t forgive because we can’t let someone violate our boundaries.  Or we redefine forgiveness so that we can say we have forgiven yet not violated our boundaries.

The reality is that we have set up walls and Cloud and Townsend taught that boundaries are to be fences; fences with gates.  The truth is that Cloud and Townsend teach about forgiveness in the book and how to forgive with appropriate boundaries.  The reality they point out is that unless we forgive, we actually keep stuff that isn’t ours inside our boundaries.  Forgiving is setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries.  But we fear and the fear supersedes the teaching of Jesus in Scripture.

The word forgiveness in Greek is “aphiemi”, which has a basic meaning of “to send away”.  It’s used for cancelling debt (to send the amount owed away), leave (to go away), abandon (to leave someone), send away, to divorce (to send away a wife/spouse), and to forgive.  Think about the irony in that forgiveness is the same word used for divorce.  The meaning is really derived from what is being sent away.  And I believe Jesus teaches pretty clearly what we are to send away in order to forgive.

Matthew 18 has Peter asking how many times should he forgive, suggesting 49 times.  Jesus pushes the number to 490.  But He also ties forgiveness to being forgiven by God.  That was probably as unexpected as the 490.  In Matthew 6, in explaining the Model Prayer, Jesus says that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven.  So in Luke we see this simple summary of Matthew’s expansion in chapter 18.  Someone repents seven times, forgive seven times.  Think that through.  That would mean we would forgive repeat offenders.

Forgiveness isn’t simply something that we should do because it’s ‘good’.  Forgiveness is something we should do because it’s necessary.   Forgiveness is necessary for us to be disciples of Jesus.  What else do you think Jesus meant when He said that we would not be forgiven if we don’t forgive?  However you answer that, the answer has to include not being His disciple.  In such a case, repentance would be to forgive the person we had refused to forgive. In that case forgiveness would be ours as well.  Forgiveness is tied to repentance so closely as to be dependent. But it’s often our own repentance rather than another’s.

I believe Jesus calls us, as His disciples, to send away our resentments.  Resentments are kept on the roll-call of grievances we hold against others.  These resentments define other people in our minds and hearts.  Other people, like we us, grow and develop, and deepen their walk with Jesus.  That roll-call of grievances refuses to permit Jesus to define them for us.  We only see them as they were, not as the Holy Spirit is transforming them now.  We refuse to acknowledge their growth.

Such a view doesn’t prevent them from growing, but it does make their growth more difficult; to the degree of our continued proximity to them.  So you have a good idea of the severity of this problem, check out verses 1 and 2 of this chapter.  It would be better for the unforgiving one to swim with a millstone.  And I suspect that for us who struggle to forgive, it is a lot like swimming with a millstone.  Jesus calls us to send the rock away and swim freely with our fellow forgiven disciples.

So, that’s one view through a knothole.  What do you see and learn from these verses?