Developing a Gospel Attitude (Part Three)

Luke 9:46-56

When the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined to journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead of himself, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. But they did not welcome him, because he determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village (9:51-56 CSB).

We have seen the hindrances of pride and a party spirit to a gospel attitude, an attitude of good news to others. Next we turn to the hindrance of poor theology.

The still learning apostles had a frightening outpouring of misinformed zeal. They had much to learn about the attitudes of Jesus Christ and how to live in conformity with his gentleness, love, compassion, goodness, and kindness. We all need to be growing in these constantly.

This event occurred in a context of opposition to Christ. The time was approaching for his ascension. (How rarely has the church thought of our Lord’s ascension into glory. I can safely state that Christians know much more about the feeding of the five thousand than they do about the ascension.) But in order to reach the time of glory, Jesus had to walk the road to the cross: “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11). Therefore, Jesus headed to Jerusalem to die on the cross for sinners. This is the turning point in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was intent on doing all that was necessary to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

However, because he was heading for Jerusalem, the Samaritans would not welcome him. They were mired in ethnic prejudice. Hatred runs very deep in human hearts. For example, I need look no further for an illustration of this than the utterly horrific political hatred continuing in this serious time of world crisis. Tear down the other side; hinder progress for the sake of political gamesmanship! Such true hate-speech is deplorable. What the Samaritans did angered James and John. They were zealous for Jesus and wanted him to be honored by people. But what kind of zeal did they have? They very sadly went in a wrong direction.

So then, they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy Jesus’ opponents. At the very least, you could say that they were confident! They were sure that God would answer their request to protect Jesus’ honor. But this is a tragic-comedy! Do you get this picture? Two lowly fisherman are asking the Son of God if he wants them to call down from heaven. In one sense, it must have been hard for Jesus to keep a straight face. Of course, you and I probably never have an exaggerated idea of our own greatness, do we? The problem is that this was not funny. They were talking about judging people to eternal destruction.

Jesus sternly rebuked them. Luke simply states that Jesus turned and rebuked them. Did he say something like the textual variant in the footnote suggests? He may have. Perhaps he plainly said, “Have you men been listening to anything I’ve said? Be quiet and follow me.”

Whatever Jesus said, the point is clear. They didn’t understand his mission to save sinners by dying on the cross to propitiate God’s wrath. They were in a wrath mentality. Tell me, which do you read more of in the four Gospels: Jesus calling down fire from heaven and destroying town after town in Palestine or Jesus tenderly revealing God’s love and mercy?

The disciples did not understand the spirit or attitude of Christ and his better covenant. They were still living under the law, and the smoke and thunder of Sinai still motivated them. Jesus was taking them to another mountain called Golgotha, where he would satisfy God’s holy wrath against sinners. He had told them twice that he would be delivered into the hands of men. Yet at the first instance of opposition, they run back to the old mountain Sinai.

I’m not trying to be hard on James and John. I would not have done any better. But what troubles me is to hear Christians nearly 2,000 years later talking with an old covenant attitude. The world doesn’t treat us Christians as kings, and immediately someone is calling for God’s wrath to fall on them. Forget revenge! That dish is so spicy and hot that only God can handle it. Instead, get busy doing what the Lord Christ wants you to do. Tell all people everywhere the good news of the gospel; pray for your enemies.

Action Step: Tell people compassionately, “You are making God angry by your rebellion against him. In spite of that, there is good news. God so loves rebellious people that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for their acts of rebellion. Now why will you perish forever under God’s wrath? Turn to Jesus and receive mercy for his sake.”

Action Step: God what us to be zealous for him, but our emotions must be guided by God’s truth. Where do you need to change your emotions according to God’s word?

Grace and peace,
David

Returning to the Lord

IMG_0853Ruth 1:6-9

In our previous article, we saw how God took the initiative to bring Naomi back from her sojourn among unbelievers to return to the Lord and his people. He acted in kindness. What was Naomi’s response to God’s action (1:6b-7)? She believed and acted. When God acts, we are to respond in faith according to his action. This requires us to think upon God and what he does (Psalm 77:10-12; 111:2-5).

So then, Naomi prepared to return home (to Israel) from Moab. Here, we need to know the meaning and importance of “return” in this chapter. The Hebrew word translated “return” is the verbal glue that holds this chapter together (1:6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15 [twice], 16, 22 [twice in Hebrew]; cf. also 2:6; 4:3). The chapter talks about the “return” of two women. For Naomi the return is personal renewal of the obedience that comes from faith (cf. Romans 1:6; 16:26; cf. 12:1-2). For Ruth the return is conversion to the true and living God.

This story is about turning back to the Lord. Part of the story of God’s glory concerns the return of people to him. God takes returning people and makes them part of his story of redemption (an important idea in Ruth.) God tells us his story, in order that we might become part of his returning people. How do you need to turn back to him? What parts of your world and life view and the actions that flow from it need immediate change? For example, how does your life honor God everyday? How does love for your neighbor produce generous, self-sacrificial action in your way of life?

When Naomi heard the good news of God’s care for his people, she sensed her need to return to God and his covenant community of people, for whom he provided bread. “Her return is a choice to identify with that community again. It is a return, not just to Bethlehem, but to Yahweh and Yahweh’s people” (Webb, p. 42). Naomi responded in faith to the word about what God had done. She continued to believe that God is gracious and merciful, and that he would receive her back to him and his people. It is important to grasp this in order to understand what follows properly. How can your faith remain strong when you feel crushed by life’s events? Remember what God has done for you in your walk of faith to this point, and consider what the Lord did for others in similar times.

Naomi’s decision influenced Ruth and Orpah to return with her. The people of God act as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). God uses our way of life as a means to draw more people to him. Think of people that the Lord might use you to influence. Her decision produced other consequences beyond Naomi’s control. This is part of faith’s adventure.

Initially, both daughters-in-law decided to go with Naomi. Clearly, they loved her, which speaks well of her previous interactions with them. Godly women should strive to draw their families close with the cords of love. Ladies, is this a priority in your life? Are you seeking to draw your family members to Jesus by the influence of your love for them?

This was an unexpected decision by Orpah and Ruth. “While Bethlehem had once been Naomi’s home, it was never theirs. Her people were not their people. And if Orpah and Ruth came with her, it would mean two more mouths to feed on a fixed and limited budget, two more bodies to clothe and house, all the while dependent on the charity of family members” (Duguid). And those family members knew neither Ruth nor Orpah! But they decided to go with her! As we seek to make other followers of Christ, our lives can become more complex.

Their decision complicated Naomi’s life in many ways. She would be taking two unwanted and widowed foreign women back to Israel. But she allowed them to start on the way back with her. We must appreciate Naomi’s problem. To have them with her would be a reminder of her tragedy. A look at their foreign faces would remind her of the loss of her sons. Consider what a woman goes through when she chooses not to abort a child from an illicit affair or rape, and who also chooses to keep the child! The child can be a sign pointing to her tragedy.

Sometimes we need to weep. Show compassion on people who have suffered terrible events, even if you think they’re to blame! (Why are people who claim to believe in God’s grace so judgmental? Why do they say, “He or she made their bed and now they have to lie in it?” Would they like God to say that to them?) Don’t you rejoice in God’s compassion toward you? Then how dare you not show it to the suffering? Suffering people need daily mercy and grace. I beg you; I plead with you—please show compassion and kindness for Christ’s sake! All of us should make compassion and kindness part of our constant return to the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

Thinking about the Faithful God

Hebrews 10:23IMG_0722

Theology is the study of God; it is the proper study of God’s people. He is the starting point of our world and life view. Since we are in a personal relationship with the Maker and Preserver of all things, we seek to understand what he has told has about himself. As we grasp his majesty, we are capable of making better sense of ourselves and the world he has placed us in. So we can say that the study of God is one of the most practical activities that we can engage in. The writer of Hebrews has told us in this great paragraph to hold fast our profession. The second part of verse twenty-three tells us of the motivating force to obey the command in the first part of this verse. Why should we obey? “For he who promised is faithful”.

Remember some basic ideas about our faithful God. When we talk about the living God with people in our generation, we need to define what we mean by the word “God”. Don’t assume that your neighbor has the same ideas that you have. They will define “God” according to whatever their religious philosophy is—Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, pagan, new age, religious existentialist, etc. Let’s think about two truths concerning the true and living God that relate to our subject.

God is personal. We need to listen carefully to what God has said about his nature and what people say about their “god”. God is not an impersonal force to be manipulated by people. God is a tri-personal being. Yes, he is infinitely greater than we are, but he is personal as we are. We must accept God as he reveals himself. We cannot recast God to conform to our opinions. God tells us that he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Certainly this is very difficult to understand, because we know of no other being like him. But our lack of comprehension does not give us the right to reinterpret reality according to our whims. There are many parts of higher mathematics that the average person does not comprehend. That lack of comprehension doesn’t alter the reality of mathematics.

God is a communicator. God speaks to us in language we can understand. He could have spoken in a way that no human could understand, but that would not have agreed with his purpose to make himself and the way of salvation known to us. To speak to us clearly, God chose three human languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) and the thought forms, idioms, and qualities of each of those languages. In doing this, the living God was able to make known the truth about himself and how to know him.

God gives us statements that we can rely on. For example, he has told us that he is eternal, all-powerful, and compassionate. This provides us with confidence in him when we grieve over departed loved ones, feel the weakness of our human flesh, and feel miserable. The Lord God makes promises to us out of his desire to draw us to himself that we might experience the wonder and joy of who he is. For example, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 HCSB). We might feel helpless and hopeless, but Jesus’ words encourage us that he will rescue us from the guilt and punishment due us for our sins.

So then, God’s revelation about his nature, fuels our confidence in the faithful God. If we follow God’s example in talking with our neighbors in this way, then we can share with them the promises that God makes to people who will turn to him and trust in him through Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Reading with Fresh Eyes

IMG_0694In our Sunday morning gathering, we aim to read through a passage of Scripture together each week. For example, we have read through Colossians five times in a week and the book of Hebrews once. Last week and this, our goal is to read through the Gospel of Matthew together. Although I don’t have a text of Scripture to back up this method, I think it is wise for groups of Christ learners (disciples) to be reading together. It draws our thinking to the same portions of the Scriptures and provides material for discussion or reference.

So then, as I was reading Matthew earlier this week, I came across a paragraph in my “Notemakers” Bible (it has wide margins that are perfect for making notes) that I had not made many notes on. It was in the middle of a well-marked chapter. The paragraph is Matthew 15:29-31. (By the way, do not feel inadequate or a failure, etc if you don’t make notes in your Bible. We are all different, and I find this a useful method for me. There is nothing spiritual about making notes in your Bible.)

Back to our topic. As I read, I began to think about how I had never meditated on this paragraph. I feel no need to analyze myself about the reasons. We all have heard someone say in a Bible study or small group, “Wow, I never read that before!” The more likely explanation is that we weren’t paying attention in our previous times of reading that passage. As I wrote at the end of last year, we might need to slow down as we read the Word, so that we can absorb what were reading. And we should not view some passages as extra material that happens to be in the way of our desire to read our favorite passages.

On a fresh reading, what do I see? First, this event follows his “secret mission” to Gentile territory, where he healed the daughter of a woman who begged Jesus to heal her. Back in Galilee, the large crowds of people bring many to him that had a variety of physical difficulties. This gathering with many in misery must have touched Jesus’ compassionate heart.  He acted with the power of the Spirit and healed them. I thought about the need to show mercy to people with physical and mental difficulties. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7 NIV). Evaluate yourself about how often you show mercy.

Second, Jesus produced a at change in those who were healed. Can you imagine the change in their attitudes when Jesus had restored them to health. Recently, I was at a men’s retreat that my dad had attended almost every year for nearly forty plus years. The retreat center is built on very hilly landscape. You can see it on the above picture. I wondered how he could have walked from the bunkhouse to the dining area. But he did. While there, I saw other older men struggling with the terrain also. Yet they were there. It is easy to talk about one’s pain and weariness in such circumstances. For this reason, imagine the change in attitude after Jesus healed them: from despair to victory.

Third, the people praised the true and living God, the God of Israel. They had great reasons to praise. They could talk and walk and see! Those with arthritis and other crippling diseases were cured! Certainly, it was time to magnify the greatness of God. There are are couple of lessons here:

  • Contrast the concerns and reaction of the healed people and those who brought them with those of the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law (Matthew 15:1-14). One group was intent on religious traditions and looking good before people; the other worshiped God and cared about other people.
  • If we understand what Jesus did, we ought to be amazed, even two thousand years later. Something is wrong with us if we read these words carefully and fail to be amazed. This is true history about real people. To nod your head and move on points out a troubled area in your soul.
  • Who are we trying to bring to Jesus? How are we involved with other people? Our goal in living must be for far more than personal comfort.

Grace and peace, David

Jesus and His People

Isaiah 42:2-3b

One of the tactics of the malicious enemy of our souls is to tempt people to have wrong, terrible, hateful thougBEDCD5DD-D15C-4075-AF41-32050BFF4B28hts about God. This surrounds us daily. How often we hear people cursing God for the problems of life. Even Job’s wife told him to “Curse God and die” during their grief and his pain. True Christians can enter into this temptation. When things are going our way, it is easy to say, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will be continually in my mouth!” However, when events run contrary to us, it is easy to fall to the temptation to start pouting or murmuring or complaining. Some Christians go around with the uneasy feeling that, in spite of John 3:16; Galatians 2:20 and other verses, God really doesn’t like them. And so they start to strive harder to do religious stuff to try to persuade God to have a kinder disposition toward them. Or falling into spiritual depression, some cozy up to a slavish fear of God, while they wait for God to “get them”. And there are other pitfalls such Christians can fall into during this miserable condition.

The way out of such spiritual muck is to listen by faith to what the Lord says about himself in his word. God the Father here encourages us to look to his Son and Servant, the Messiah. He is the One we need to fix our thoughts on. He is the Lord who can rescue us!

The Holy Spirit tells us of character of Christ’s public ministry during his first coming (Isaiah 42:2). This certainly is important to lay hold of, because Jesus gave a constant revelation about who God is (John 14:7-11). This is also a reason to persevere in reading the Four Gospels, because you and I cannot see with our physical eyes the life of Jesus. We must read about him in the Bible. (I wish someone had explained this to me when I was a new Christian. It might have helped keep me from much senseless doubt, fear and grief.)

Jesus did not act like an earthly conqueror. Most human leaders make it a point to push their fame, their agenda, and their power on those under their authority. This especially happens when they want their religion to be the law of the land. Verbal, legal, economic, social and physical abuses are all tools of the worldly conqueror to enforce their agenda. Think of what Nebuchadnezzar did to the Hebrews and what the Roman Caesars did to the early Christians. Think of how many followers of Christ are persecuted today because of their stand for the risen Lord Jesus. But our Savior did not do that when he came. Instead, he went around doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil (Acts 10:38), and he preached and taught about God’s saving reign.

There is probably no distinction between the verbs listed, but “the intention is to create a cumulative emphasis on a quiet, unaggressive, unthreatening ministry” (Motyer). And so Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s servant and comforted a weeping widow whose only son had died and raised him to life. Jesus spoke tenderly to a sinful woman, when Simon the Pharisee condemned her. He took time to heal and reassure another woman, while on the way to raise a young girl from death’s clutches. He protected Mary from Martha’s harsh words and later from the cruel remarks of Judas and the other disciples. He became the friends of tax collectors and sinners, while other religious leaders despised them. Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath, when others would have gladly left her suffer. And he had mercy on a blind beggar, when others were rebuking him and telling him to be quiet. Jesus was strong to deliver, but ministered in peace and calmness. This is the Savior we need. He doesn’t push us down in the dust to grovel before him, but he lifts us up to give us life and liberty and laughter!

Jesus did act with love, as in our previous examples. He still acts with love, because he is always the same (Hebrews 13:8). He died to save us, though we were powerless, ungodly, sinful, enemies of God (Romans 5:6-9). He saved us, though we were not righteous, when we didn’t understand or seek God, when we turned away and became worthless, when our words were filled with deadly poison, deceit, lies, cursing, and bitterness, while our ways were marked by malice, ruin, misery, and unrest, and even while we had no fear of God (Romans 3:10-18).

Christ receives, forgives, and restores us, even when we are disobedient children (1 John 1:9-2:2). He is glad to call us his bride, though we act like whores at times. Yes, whore is not too strong a word for anyone would pay the world to be ravished by its pleasures when they ought to be enjoying life with the Lord of glory. Yet, he welcomes us back and even goes out to find us. “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my God would die for me?” Worship the Lord for his overflowing grace! “Hallelujah! What a Savior who can take a poor lost sinner, lift him from the miry clay and set him free! I will ever tell the story, shouting, “Glory, glory, glory!” Hallelujah! Jesus ransomed me” (Julia H. Johnston).

Grace and peace, David