Tag Archive: following Jesus


comfort

Let me disclaim this right at the outset – this is not something i have sorted. This is something i wrestle with. Because being comfortable is relative. My ‘simple’ is another person’s ‘luxury’ and my ‘lavish’ is someone else’s ‘scraping by’.

Which is perhaps why we should not be the ones defining comfortable, enough, simplicity et al. That feels like an area where we strongly need to be led by the Holy Spirit as the Bible is not clear in terms of how this looks within the specifics of modern day life and context.

But this is a topic which raised its ugly head again for me this week and i can’t think of a specific example that brought it to the fore. Just a bunch of things i’ve been reading and thinking about i guess.

My theory is this: Many christians that i know choose comfort over obedience.

And they do it in such a way that suggests that this is the Godly way to go about stuff. As if God wants us to be comfortable.

Time and time again, i am dumbfounded by people who can read the bible and see something one way again and again and again and yet somehow end up with the belief that a Godly reality is otherwise.

FOR EXAMPLE

Jesus meets up with a young man [Matthew 19] and tells him that he will have to sell everything he has in order to be a follower. The young man walks away disappointed because he has great wealth.

Jesus has a meal with Zacchaeus [Luke 19] and Zachaeus responds by telling Jesus he will immediately give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times the amount to anyone he has cheated.

Jesus is hanging out at a dinner party shortly before He is arrested [John 12] and a woman comes in and pours perfume, worth a year’s wages, over His feet too symbolically prepare Him for burial.

In Matthew 8, a teacher of the law tells Jesus he wants to follow Him and Jesus responds by saying that “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple has the request of burying his father before he follows Jesus who responds, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

In Matthew 10, Jesus speaks these uncomforting words: ‘You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.’

How is it possible to read those stories [and others, see the Beatitudes for a long list of more] and come to the conclusion that God is calling us to comfort. Before Justice. Or Mercy. Or Disciple-Making. Or Love.

Or Obedience…

WE HAVE CHOSEN COMFORT OVER OBEDIENCE

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul has disobeyed God’s command on how to deal with a city in the interests of creating a burned offering for God. So it seems, for a minute, that his intentions are good.

22 But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

To obey is better than sacrifice.

In Matthew 5 we see that making peace with someone is a bigger priority than offering a gift to the Lord.

i’m not so sure that being comfortable is bad. i don’t think i’m saying that.

But when it comes at the expense of obedience or other things Jesus calls us to…

When it becomes the thing we firmly set our eyes on above all other…

Well then i am saying, that we need to be doing some wrestling and heart-searching and Jesus-following, so that we don’t end up one day standing in front of God with Him looking at us and saying, “I never knew you.” [Matthew 7]

Anyone else wrestling with this? Any thoughts you have on either comfort or obedience? i would love to hear about it in the comments… 

[To take a look at some of my favourite verses in the bible, click here]

had lunch with a friend of mine who doesn’t ‘go to church’ any more…

i know, i know, i should have been spending the whole meal challenging him about how important it is and how pathetically self-focused he is being and something something about the body of Christ and all that… but i was too busy finding the encounter so refreshing.

you see, Bill [let’s call him that – i know how friendly you okes can be to people who ‘don’t go to church’] is a guy who i have never even met before – when i was in a tax crisis a few years ago he volunteered his services and basically swooped in and saved the day and really helped me out – somehow we had become Facebook friends somewhere along the line and when he saw a need, he responded. i am so grateful he did.

one thing Bill told me is that he is tired of the nonsense of religiosity – he has been struggling with how church has been done and christianity lived out [or not lived out to be more precise] for years and is at the point of i want to be either fully in or fully out – i either believe completely or i walk away from this thing… but i can’t walk away cos i completely know in myself that this stuff is true.

having chatted to some mates of his they started meeting regularly [i think it’s on a sunday so they’re probably okay, even though the original ‘sunday’ wasn’t even a sunday, right?] and they eat together and pray together and share and do life and grow and are challenged and it sounds pretty churchlike to me [although they might need to work a little on their ‘church politics’ cos i’m not sure they’re fighting enough about that]

also he discovered this book that he has been reading [to the exclusion of all other books right now] which he has said has completely revolutionised his faith and helped him to really start believing again – the book’s name? the bible. no surprises there. but Bill has started hungrily devouring that book and his eyes have been opened in so many ways and you can just hear and see the life in him as he really seems to be grasping [or on the way to grasping] what this following Jesus thing is all about, largely for the first time – man, it was an exciting lunch for me…

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE DON?

this past week, Donald Miller [author of ‘Blue Like Jazz’ and other books and part of the Storyling blog which is helping people tell their stories well] confessed via Twitter and his blog, that he doesn’t often go to church in a post titled, ‘I don’t worship God by singing, I connect with Him elsewhere’ – it did not go down so well.

in fact, his follow up tweet read like this: Blogged about not going to church today. More shame and guilt @replies than I’ve ever received on twitter. I feel immense forgiveness.

in his follow-up blog titled, ‘Why I don’t go to church very often, a follow up blog’, he responded to a lot of the comments and feedback he received [a lot of which had missed his original point].

what i did not hear Don say was that he doesn’t want to be part of a community that gathers together and strengthen each other in the living out of the bible – what i believe he was reacting against was the idea that church is this particular meeting that takes place on that particular day at that particular place.

and i agree with him – for too long i have felt that the traditional description of what church is, is way too small. Church is a lot of the things that a lot of people see church as being. But i believe it is also a lot more.

this paragraph from Don Miller’s blog i found particularly interesting [and so largely true]

Neither am I arguing the current model should change. Millions are fed weekly through these kinds of programs. What I’m arguing is that nobody should be faulted for creating something different. Those who would argue “we shouldn’t simply create the church in our own image” forget it already has been created in our own image. First the image of the royal government then the image of the university or school and then big business and now moving toward the entertainment industry. The church has always been recreated in the image of the dominant institution in society. For the early church, that was the family. For our culture, it’s business and education and entertainment.

CHURCH IS AS CHURCH DOES

am i suggesting we should stop traditional church? absolutely not. what i am saying is that maybe it is not the best thing for everyone. and for us to look at other models of church and decide they are not biblical when our one may not be particularly biblical either feels just a little bit rich. and unhelpful. and maybe not all that true.

what is and has and may continue to be the problem for so long is that so much focus is put by so many people on the sunday meeting when i’m pretty sure that is NOT what it is meant to be about – it is meant to be about loving God and loving people and making disciples and looking after the least of these [starting with the church but really paying good attention to widows and orphans as well in there] and spreading forgiveness and pointing people towards Jesus [and the majority of those people will not easily step into a sunday church meeting building  – and why would they? weird stuff happens there – but they might step into a lounge, or stand around a braai, or hang out on the beach]

church is God’s people doing God’s stuff in the world. that really feels like a better definition to me than ‘that meeting at that place on that day.’

i’m pretty sure that Jesus did not die so that we could meet on a week to week basis in a building [ESPECIALLY if our lives outside of that building are not going to reflect it at all or enough]

and this conversation needs to be a much l0nger one because there are so many different angles to it [and i believe Don raised some good ones] – community is important as is accountability as is teaching and learning and serving and discipleship and communion sharing [but i love that my wife tbV gravitates so much more strongly to the idea of an actual meal for this than a quick sip and a dip although i think both can be valid and beautiful] and mission [both near and far] and so much more…

# when we say church is this meeting that happens in that place on that day, then we say anything else cannot be church [i don’t buy that!]

# when we call organisations who are made up of God’s people doing God’s stuff ‘para-church’ organisations as in ‘outside of church’ or ‘not church’ then i don’t buy that – if church is defined as either the body or the bride of Christ then para-church organisations that are doing kingdom things fit into that.

# when the majority of the money that is given to the church is spent on buildings and things and the people who work in the church and so little of it is given out to the work and mission of the church outside of those who already believe, then i’m not quite convinced we have found the best way of doing it yet.

and more. this whole thing feels so much bigger than a lot of what we’ve made it and if we continue to hold on so tightly and rigidly to the current model we have then we may miss out, not so much on ‘the new thing God is wanting to do’ but more directly i think on the old thing He was always calling us to be.

so Bill, keep on my friend – you were an inspiration to me today and i look forward to connecting more and wrestling over this church thing together and i think so much of what you were saying and are feeling is completely on track – it’s not going to be easy and so many people are just not going to understand… but as long as you are looking to the Bible as your guide book and surrounding yourself with other Jesus-following people and calling out to Him and continuing to live a life that shines light and is salt and leaves behind the fragrance of Christ… well, all i can say is you are gunning for the right audient, keep on.

Be encouraged by Hebrews 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

[To read why ‘You should stop going to church,’ click here]

blogging

blog in

be the log in

be the log in your own eye

dictating what you write

and who and how and why you want to impress those looking in

who are these audients you seem to seek so hard to impress?

 

and cajole and coax

into liking and retweeting

posting and sharing

and gushing over all your stuff?

who are all these spectators?

 

speck takers?

who you care about so highly as to write so closely between the lines of what they are wanting  to read?

to the exclusion of what you know you should be writing?

or would know you should be writing

were you giving more attention to the still small voice.

or any attention at all, really.

but no, there is no time

you. are. on. the. move. (really! i’m certainly not lion here)

 

checking on site stats,

on page hits,

on follows, on retweets,

on comments, on Comet,

“On Cupid, On Donner, On Blitzen… Did I leave anyone out?”

do you leave anyone out?

 

have you made your list and checked it twice?

the liberals, the feminists, the Anabaptists, the gays?

the pre-reformed post-apocalyptic millennial calvinist pentecostal

resaved revirgined unconfirmed church-of-the-toxic-writhing-defanged-serpent brethren?

thou. shalt. not. offend. anyone.

 

except God.

 

oh, you can offend Him alright.

But He is thick-skinned, so don’t worry about Him

He’ll get over it quickly

He is, after all, all about Love, right?

He is, after all, about inclusion?

He is after all. Right?

 

and so it kinda makes sense that you are as well…

 

after all, the attention

after all, the followers

after all, the applause

after all.

 

but the word must get out

the word will get out

this word will not return void

this Word will not return void

the Word and the words will be spoken

if not by you, then by someone else

someone who is not all concerned about those who are watching

who are listening in

who are waiting for a word to be written out of line

out of the lines

that they have drawn

someone who will speak the words that need to be spoken

no matter what the consequence might be to themself

no matter what backlash might present itself

or be thrown mercilessly at them

or hungrily devoured and spewed out again by some comment-heavy troll

someone who will not simply speak the words that the itching ears of the crowds want to hear

that make them feel good, or fall neatly within their confines of what is allowed

of what they allow

someone who will do that which needs to be done

because it needs to be done

needs to be said or written or pronounced

and if that person does not exist

if that person needing to say that thing that needs to be said

share that thought that needs to be passed on

or pronounce that politically incorrect notion of a handed down Truth

if they do not raise their hand

or step up to the keyboard

or make themselves known

what then?

 

well, if that were to happen

if no-one was to be found who could deliver the message

no one at all

in any place, at any time

then the very words would write themselves

the very Word would write, Himself

this Word will not return void

this Word will.

it’s not going to be stopped!

 

so really the question just becomes to you

what will you do?

who will you be?

who will you be for?

and to what extent will you change any of that for those who don’t really matter

really

and just start writing for you

and from you

and for Him

and that’s all.

 

a maze in grace

there is a well-known story of a woman who is brought before Jesus for committing adultery.

the crowd and the religious leaders are bloodthirsty and ready to stone her [they have even selected their weapons of choice] when Jesus intervenes and turns the whole circus court on its head and the crowd melts away until it is just Jesus and the woman.

“Has anyone condemned you?”

“No? Well then neither do I.”

And we love this story. We drink it up. We preach great sermons on grace and forgiveness and ask the pointed questions of, “Well where was the man cos surely it takes two people to…”

 

i was thinking this evening about ‘obedience’ – it’s a much harder sell, isn’t it?

it feels like ‘obedience’ has been locked away with all the negative manipulationary ways of ‘getting people to follow Jesus’ like the warning about hell and damnation if you don’t… no, today we have to invite people into a relationship. and there needs to be a strong emphasis on grace.

“Has anyone condemned you?”

“No? Well then neither do I.”

 

the idea of obedience has been bouncing around in my mind over the last few years, never too seriously to do too much about in terms of speaking or writing about it, but just from time to time it raises its head as something we should perhaps be taking more seriously.

we call Jesus King don’t we? or Lord? Lord of our lives. Master… teacher… rabbi… the one we follow.

‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’ [Luke 9.23]

it’s kinda there in the contract.

which too many people have watered down in the name of a badly defined grace at times.

because while there is the lack of condemnation exchange between Jesus and the woman, that is not where it ends.

there is also the call to ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

which in essence is the call to obedience.

to God-following-ness.

to deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me.

 

you see, it IS about grace – the gift is absolutely free, so that no one can boast.

but the acceptance of the gift initiates the call to obedience, which costs absolutely everything.

and ‘complete surrender to God’ [His ways, His plan for our lives, His kingdom] is something that we just don’t talk about enough these days

maybe [we’re all too busy fighting about the definition of ‘a real man’?]

so we can get tripped up by our incessant grasping of this idea of grace as we’ve imagined it to be, as opposed to what it actually is

 

a free gift into a life of obedience, following a holy and awesome God who is completely worthy of that type of commitment

what are your thoughts on obedience? and what it means in the life of one who follows Jesus?

 

 

Sat in on a church service on Sunday where the preacher preached how we’ve got it all wrong.

Life has become all about pursuing happiness. He stuck up definitions of the words ‘hedonism’ and ‘narcissm’ on the screen so we could see just how bad it was.

I’m with you so far.

And then he dropped the M.Night.Shyamalan twist. ‘The way of the Christ follower is that we must pursue God. And happiness will follow.’

Ouch. Instantly i realised this was not of the ‘The Sixth Sense’ Shyamalan twist variety… this was the more recent Shyamalan twist where the twist was ‘This movie is crap!’ [Although let’s be honest, it’s stopped being a twist by now, we should have taken not of the signs]

The rest of his message was ‘convincing’ us that God is a happy God and therefore us pursuing God is us finding happiness.

And i agreed with him to the extent that it sounds nice but is completely not true. At all.

Was the apostle Peter happy do you think when they crucified him upside down? [he allegedly refused to be crucified right way up because he didn’t feel worthy to die the same way Jesus did]

Was James happy when they sawed him in half?

Do you think Paul was happy when he was flogged and beaten and stoned and shipwrecked and eventually lost his head?

Were the early christians happy to be covered in tar and set on fire to be used as human torches for Nero’s birthday celebrations?

No, i don’t believe they were happy.

I DO believe they were very likely filled with joy though.

Because Paul would write things like this:

‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ [Philippians 1.21]

Which followed on from statements like  this:

18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. [Philippians 1.18-20]

The difference really seems to come down to the distinction between ‘Happiness’ and ‘Joy’ and it might be that the preacher just mixed the two up and that he meant everything i am saying here. But if so, I didn’t hear that. He told us that if we pursued God we would be happy. And i think most people have the same kind of idea when they hear the consequence of their actions will be happiness – no problems, no pain, everything will go smoothly, certainly no suffering or death.

But then a family member gets cancer. Or someone they know is killed in a car accident. And suddenly the ‘promise’ they were given from the front of the church doesn’t seem so true any more because they certainly aren’t happy. And so because it isn’t true then God is made out to be a liar. [in cases where it really IS the messenger we should be holding accountable for broken-telephoning it]

This is how i see the difference:

# HAPPINESS is circumstance dependent – you give me a present, i become happy. i win a prize, i am happy. she says “Yes!” i am happy. but if you scratch my new car or a friend dies or it rains when i’m wanting to go out then i might be unhappy. happiness is more an emotion – something you feel.

# JOY, however, is a deeper experience that often encompasses happiness but can also be present even when circumstances don’t naturally lead you to feel happy. a deeper knowledge of and trust in God is often what leads people, like Paul, to be able to rejoice [celebrate joyfully] even in adverse conditions or circumstances. joy is more a state of being  that may or may not involve the emotion of happiness.

So even if you are being persecuted or having a bad day or even if circumstances are looking bleak, there is that deeper something [which i believe only a deep faith in Jesus can truly bring about, so some of you may not understand what i am talking about if you don’t have that – joy after all is a fruit of the Spirit] which still brings you hope and encourages you to keep going and even allows you the chance to celebrate in the face of adversity or challenge.

And i will agree with the preachery guy in terms of his focus of things. That as we seek God and to be in good relationship with Him, so joy will follow. 

But following God and receiving happiness? There are hundreds and thousands of christians through the ages who have gone through real and actual persecution, who have lost loved ones and limbs, who have lived in adverse circumstances and who have been beaten, imprisoned or killed because of what they believed, who might take issue on that statement. But joy? I bet you they would talk you ear off for hours, maybe days, about that one. 

 

Yes, Christianity can be confusing.

Yes, a lot of bad things have been done and called Christianity that were not.

But at the heart of it all, when Jesus was asked, He summed the whole thing up as ‘Loving God, Loving people.’

If you’re not that, you’re not following Jesus.

[For the next 50 word blog post on Forgiveness, click here]

i posted a Bonhoeffer quote the other day on the book of facings and the tier of twit that got an insanely hectic amount of likes on it, and despite it being a deliberately Christian statement, a fair amount of those likes were from people who would not label themselves as such:

‎’Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.’ [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

clearly what Bonhoeffer says is something i have said and written about a lot in recent years but i think he just completely nails it with the words he uses here – he’s not just saying ‘let’s be known less for what we are against than what we are for’ which is a chant i have taken up more vociferously in recent times…

he says “it is less about cautiously avoiding sin”

where ‘avoiding sin’ becomes the focus and so much care, energy and effort is put into making sure we don’t step over the line. what that means is we have to have a line and have it drawn firmly into the ground and be very much aware of who is on this side of it and who is on that side. and speak loudly and often judgementally into all those who are not on the right side of the line as we have deemed ‘the right side’ to be.

us versus them.

the biggest problem with this being, that more often than not, this is done with the absolute minimum of Love and Grace for those who are more the ‘them’ and less the ‘us’.

Bonhoeffer goes on to talk about ‘courageously doing God’s will’.

so not just trying to do more good than bad. but being intentional and courageous in our living out of God’s will. things like Godly confrontation [calling things in people and situations, in Love] and accountability, practices like unity, genuine hospitality and unconditional Love and Forgiveness. owning up to our crap. seeking life transformation [and not just fish-giving!] in those considered ‘the least of these’ and more.

actively following Jesus instead of passively calling myself a christian but looking not too different from all those around me.

‎’Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.’ [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

i wonder what the world would look like if the church started taking this more to heart?

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