Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jesus Didn't Call Believers

Believing is nice.  It's great when someone believes in you, they say "I know you can do it", like the cheerers at the Special Olympics.  We all want people to encourage us, to push us on, to let us know that we are cool.

God has got plenty of people like that.  A lot of worshipers, a lot of people to praise Him, to believe in Him.  And I'm sure he appreciates that.

But when Jesus was on earth, he wasn't looking for cheerleaders, or those who would affirm his existence or his glory.  He's a pretty self-confident guy.  He knew he could rule the world.  He knew he was capable of anything.  Literally.  He really didn't need more people to remind him of that.

When Jesus came to earth, he sought followers.  Not people who would stay on the sidelines, but players who would get in the game.  Jesus wasn't seeking people who would tell him how cool he was-- he wanted people who would get their hands dirty and join in the work.

And he made the most severe demands on his followers.

He demanded they leave everything they had, all that they had worked for their entire lives.

He demanded they memorize all he said, so they could repeat it to others.

He demanded they go wherever he went, living out his lifestyle.

He demanded they followed the impulses of compassion, like he did, and that they give according to the provision of God, as he did.

And he demanded they trusted in God, completely, because they wouldn't know where their next meal or next support would come from.

Jesus didn't require believe-- he demanded faith.  When he comes back to earth, will he find that faith?

Jesus' Followers

Jesus knew that he was not long for this world, and needed to have others who were committed to the teaching of the kingdom of God to spread his word when he was gone.  So he decided to have a “school”, even as Elisha and John the Baptist both had, over which he would be the teacher. He called them even as Elijah called Elisha, telling the student to follow the teacher.  From that point on, the disciple would go wherever the teacher went, doing whatever he told them to. The school would focus on him and memorize his teachings.  They would also look at his life and imitate it the best they could.  After they had memorized his teachings, he would send them out to give the world his teachings and life. 

One day, Jesus was passing by where John the Baptist was teaching.  John, remembering the revelation he had heard from God at Jesus’ baptism, declared: “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  At this point, two of John’s students or “disciples” left John and started to follow Jesus.  One of these disciples was named Andrew.  Jesus turned to them and said, “What are you doing?”  They answered, “Master, where are you staying?”  He answered, “Come and see.”  So they stayed with him.  After hearing his teaching, he went to his brother Simon and said, “We have found the Messiah!”  Simon doubted that, but agreed to see Jesus.

            Jesus was standing by the lakeside in Capernum, where Simon lived.  The crowds were so many, that Jesus asked Simon, who was a fisherman, if he could stand on his boat, a little ways from shore to teach them.  Simon agreed, and Jesus taught.  Jesus then turned to Simon and said, “Put out your nets and you will catch quite a few fish.”  Simon replied, “ ‘Master’, we worked all night and caught nothing—can’t you see that?  I’m a fisherman, I know my job.”  Jesus replied, “Just do as I say.”  Simon replied, “As you command.”  Simon and his partners let down their nets and a huge amount of fish was caught, so that another boat was necessary to pull them all up. 
After they returned to shore with the fish, Simon knelt before Jesus and said, “I don’t deserve you to stay with me, Lord.  I am a sinful man.”  Jesus replied, “Don’t be afraid.  From now on, you will fish for humans.  Get up and follow me!  From now on, you will not be called Simon, but Rock.”  Simon got up, left his boat and nets and fish, and followed Jesus.  And so his name became Cephus (“rock” in Aramaic) or Peter (“rock” in Greek).  

Jesus then went to Peter’s partners, James and John, who was caring for their fish with their Father, Zebedee.  Jesus told them, “Follow me.”  They then dropped their nets, left their father and followed Jesus.  None of them went back to their nets for three years.

            Jesus saw another disciple of John’s named Phillip and said, “Follow me.”  Phillip did, and heard all that Jesus taught.  Then he went to his friend, Nathaniel, who was sitting under a fig tree.  Phillip said, “We have found the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote about—Jesus of Nazareth!”  Nathaniel replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Phillip replied, “Come and see.” 

            Phillip then introduced Nathaniel to Jesus and Jesus said immediately, “Ah!  You are a son of Jacob in whom there is no deceit!”  Nathaniel said, “How can you know who I am?”  Jesus replied, “I saw you when Phillip called you, when you were sitting under a fig tree.”  Nathaniel was shocked and said, “You are the Christ!  You are the Son of God!”  Jesus said, “You’re impressed because I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than that.  In fact, you will see the Son of Man as the way to heaven, with the angels of God walking going up and coming down upon him.”

            Even so, Jesus gathered many disciples, and soon he had a large crowd of followers, all competing for his attention and memorizing every word he said.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Love v. Fear

From the book He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen.  Thanks to Fran Means for pointing it out.

After his work on the cross was finished Jesus went looking for love. Could this be what he most wanted the cross to produce in his followers? Was his death designed to reach past their fears of God and begin a new relationship based on the intimacy of love instead? What else could it be?

Through the Old Testament, God often identified himself as the God of love and mercy, but few understood him that way. They seemed able to obey him only under threat or judgment. Even commanding them to love him with all their hearts seemed to negate the end by the means employed. Can true love really be commanded?

Love is at the very core of God’s nature. In fact, when John summed up the substance of God, he did so in a very simple statement: “God is love.” We may not be able to explain in concrete terms all that God is and how Father, Son and Spirit relate together in such unity, but we do know that they exist in a perfect state of love.

When that love touches you, you will discover there is nothing more powerful in the entire universe. It is more powerful than your failures, your sins, your disappointments, your dreams, and even your fears. God knows that when you tap the depths of his love, your life will forever be changed. Nothing can prevail over it; and nothing else will lead you to taste of his kind of holiness.

I am not saying that the fear of God is wrong, only that it is incomplete. It is the first rung on the ladder to knowing God in his fullness. He said himself it was the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7 ), but it is only the beginning. Love is the end product of wisdom.

If you don’t love God, you would be well-served to fear him. At least that might keep you from behaviors that will destroy you and others around you. But once you know how much he loves you, you’ll never need to fear him again. In other words, this Father doesn’t just seek your obedience, he desires your affection. He can have your obedience without your love, but he knows where he has your love he will also have your obedience.

“There is no fear in love…because fear has to do with punishment [or torment: KJV],” John wrote as he tried to convince the church in Ephesus that God’s love had replaced the old order of fear. It was revolutionary then and regrettably still is today. We seem more comfortable fearing God than we do loving him.

But fear isn’t in God’s nature. He fears nothing. Thus his own holiness is produced not by his fear, but by his love. In fact, fear cannot produce the holiness God wants to share with us. It is incapable of doing so. For God to transform us to be like him, he must expel our fear and teach us the wonder of living in his love.

Fearing God can compel us to conform our behavior to his desires, but it will not last. Because it convinces us to act against our will, even when it leads us to righteousness, it does not change us. The behavior that results lasts only as long as the fear itself, which is why those who approach it this way will need greater levels of fear to stay motivated.

God knows that responding to his love will take you much further than fear ever could. That’s why love must first deal with your fears. “Perfect love drives out fear,” John continued. While fear may be the most powerful motive known to man, God’s love is MORE powerful still, and in the face of it our greatest fears are swallowed up in him. Love displaces fear the same way light displaces darkness.

There is nothing more critical to spiritual growth than making this transition. John concludes, “The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). As long as we live in fear, we exclude ourselves from the very process that will make us complete in God.

People who serve God because they fear his punishment will forever try to please him by doing the best they can, and they will always come up short. Dominated by guilt and having to justify themselves in failure, they will never discover what it really means to become God’s friend.

God has better things in mind for you. He wants you to know his love so completely that fearing him will have no place in your life. When you are absolutely convinced how much God loves you, that knowledge will drive out every fear you have. You won’t need to fear an uncertain future, the rejection of friends, the lack of desires, or even God himself. Knowing his heart for you will free you to trust him more than ever, and that alone will lead you to ever greater participation in his holiness.

You would think being free from the fear of the Lord would be great news, but I don’t find that everyone shares my excitement. Many see their fear of God, or eternal judgment, as the only thing that keeps them from indulging in sin. Without it, they are so afraid they might give in to their flesh, they cling to their fear of God as if it were a life raft in a frothing sea.

It is difficult to give up our fear of God if it has served us so well. That’s understandable. We don’t often think of love as a compelling enough motive to hold us in check.

But the love God extends to us and invites from us is nothing like any love we have known before. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). John defines our Father’s love for us because he knew that our earthly references to love would never do justice to God’s.

John said it best. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Until we experience the reality of God’s love and grow to trust him with the details of our lives, we will not break free from the power of self. That’s why it is so critical to understand Jesus’ death on the cross as an act of love for you. If you see it only as God satisfying his justice, then you unwittingly empty the cross of its power.

The doorway into the Father’s love begins at the cross. Seeing what Father and Son accomplished together in that moment defines love in a way that you can experience only in him. This is the love that will allow you to feel perfectly safe in the Father’s presence. It frees you to be exactly who you are, weaknesses and all, and never again have to pretend before him.

Then you will discover that life in God rises out of your security in his love, not your insecurity that you don’t love him enough.