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Spectator or Disciple

Luke 19:1-10 (CEV)
“Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today.” (v5b)

Discipleship Is Not a Spectator Sport*

There are certain Bible stories that we all have heard from our child-hood—Adam and Eve, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, a boy with loaves and fishes, Peter trying to walk on water, and so on. There is wisdom in the retelling of these stories, something about them that tugs at the cords of our better selves. Here are places we hear the greatest of all stories—people meet God.

One such story is Zacchaeus. Every child who has spent any time in Sunday school has heard the story. Most know the song about him. In just 10 short verses we learn a lot about this man.

Do you ever complain about paying taxes? Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Worse yet, he was working for a foreign government. So he was considered a traitor, a collaborator with the enemy. He was classed with the lowest, robbers, adulterers, cut-throats. He was hated and despised by most everyone. He had, in fact, gotten rich at their expense.

The day Zacchaeus heard the news that Jesus was coming and climbed up that sycamore tree, he had no inkling of what was about to happen. It is not hard for me to believe that he had no higher motive than the desire to see a celebrity, a famous man. He made no effort to meet Jesus. He didn’t go to hear him preach. He just wanted to see him. In the safety of that tree, he would be a spectator.

Now Zacchaeus knew what people have always believed, what most of us believe, what Scripture gives credibility to. A person can find God if she/he really looks for Him.

“You will find Him [God], if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”(Deut 4:29)

BUT like many, he never knew that God seeks us out—that Jesus was looking for him. Were he not, Zacchaeus would have been content for the rest of his life to remain a spectator—seeing but not knowing.

How easy it is to be satisfied with being a religious spectator. Churches can be wonderful places to be spectators. You can be close to Jesus—observe, even be entertained. The spectator sits, looks, listens. It is safe—you can enjoy or criticize as suits you.

But sooner or later “once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.”

Jesus stops under the sycamore tree, along the church pew, at our grandstand seat and says, “I want to go home with you. I want you to become involved with me.” He calls us from the grandstand to the playing field. Because He doesn’t want spectators, he wants disciples. He will not let us just watch.

Zacchaeus didn’t want very much from Jesus—just to see Him. A lot of us don’t want much from God—just assurance we’ve done our duty, gone to church. To know when we are in trouble, or we’re sick, we can call on him. We don’t really expect God to come, change us, and be part of our every-day-lives. Sundays, holidays, weddings, funerals, special occasions— that’s quite enough God, thank you. But Jesus says, “Let’s go to your house. I want to spend the day with you.”

Why Zacchaeus went to see Jesus, I don’t really know. What made him curious, I don’t really know. Who told him about Jesus, I don’t know. I only know he went to see a celebrity, a great figure passing through and there he met the son of God face to face. Zacchaeus could have said, “No.” But he didn’t. And to his credit and his benefit, to his own eternal joy, he took Jesus home with him.

And something wonderful, miraculous happened. The spectator became a disciple.

It’s the choice we all have to make. What about you—content to be a spectator, watch from the Sycamore tree? Interested? Even convinced? Jesus is saying “I want to go Home with you today.” Take Him up on it. Say, “yes.” Take Him home and where ever you go.

Want to know more? click here.

*This is an update of a previous post.

Jesus Could Not

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. -Mark 6:5, 6a (NIV)

“He can do anything, anything.” Those words, applied to Jesus, were the words of a song in one of the most powerful children’s musicals I remember from my years as a pastor. It is a sentiment you’ve probably heard repeated many times if you’ve been around Christians for any length of time. I would guess you’ve probably expressed it yourself or at least thought it. I know I have.

The only trouble with that is, the Bible says differently. In a text, that “stops me in my tracks,” whenever I read it, we are told, “He [Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except” heal a few sick people. “Could not” is not a phrase we connect to Jesus/God. It took a while for that to register.

My initial reaction to that text was focused on the “except” heal a few sick people. That’s not an absence of miracles. It is a powerful expression of God’s power. And it was done in spite of opposition and lack of faith. How we would rejoice to see that. Only after thinking about that for years did I begin to hear “could not.”

The implications of that are sobering to say the least. I don’t understand all it means. But for sure, in some important way, human beings who resist Jesus, who lack faith, hinder His work. Of course I believe that God is sovereign and that His ultimate plan will be fulfilled. However, it surely means some things God wants to do are limited by people just like you and me. And that probably explains why it took so long for that text to really sink in. I am responsible for preventing some of what God wants to do for me and through me. I don’t really want to hear that.

But the good news—you, I can make a difference, in the church, in the community, in the world by cooperating with and trusting Jesus.

What does God want to do where you are?

Jesus Wants To Make His Home With You

The fourteenth chapter of John is one of the best known and loved passages in the Bible. It has been one of the standard passages read at funerals. I don’t know that I ever did a funeral with reading from it.
The emphasis is usually on the comfort God provides and the promise of a home in heaven (“I go to prepare a place for you.“)

These are certainly wonderful promises. But, I am intrigued by this statement: “We (My Father and I) will come to him and make our home with him.” What a “breath-taking” idea. Someone has said, “There is no more precious verse in the whole Bible.” We can host God, not just as a visitor but living with us.
He knocks at the door, waiting for us to open it and invite Him in. And He will only stay as He is loved as demonstrated by our obedience to his word.

When someone lives with you, you really get to know them. You share the “nitty-gritty” of your life: the heat/cold, the sparse furnishings, whatever. In return, we have direct and familiar access to the creator’s power, and the redeemer’s love, forgiveness and companionship.

Who wouldn’t want to share your home with some one like that?

He Promised

Matthew 28:6b- he has risen, just as he said.

A one time popular Christian TV personality once told a TV audience: “The Christian life is just so great that I think I would become a Christian even if it wasn’t true!”1 Tim Keller says, “As a young Christian, I had come up through mainline churches, I was a religion major at a secular university. The common message he got about the stories of the resurrection was that they “were literalistic, symbolic representations of these higher spiritual truths.”

And then I read what the Apostle Paul wrote: “If Christ is not risen…your faith is useless.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is greatest event in human history. It is in fact the hinge; it is the pillar on which our faith stands. Continue reading

Listening To God (2)

“God…has spoken” –Hebrews 1:1,2-
“Listen and understand. –Matthew 15:10

Listening is the primary starting place for a journey with God. The Bible is the primary place we hear God. That’s not a misprint. In spite of the problems our culture sees with it, the Bible is what God says to us, in writing.

There is no denying it can be daunting, at least in the beginning. There is no denying there are some things we don’t understand. According to Eugene Peterson, classicist, Gilbert Highet “used to say that anyone who reads the Bible and isn’t puzzled at least half the time doesn’t have his mind on what he is doing.” But every period of renewal and revival, reformation has come as God’s people returned to the Book—reading, studying, teaching. It is there we hear God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

It is important to remember that the reading, studying are not ends in themselves but means to hearing God. As Jim Cymbala puts it “Christianity is not predominantly a teaching religion…The teaching of sound doctrine is a prelude, if you will, to the supernatural.”

Need direction? Need understanding? Need encouragement? Need correction? Need salvation? Listen; God has what you need.

Praying for Effect

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers. -Ephesians 6:18

Praying is an important human activity. Historically Christians have believed it essential:

John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, said, “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer.”
S.D. Gordon said, “The greatest thing anyone can do for God and for man is to pray….”You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
E.M. Bounds: “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.”

It seems the American people agree. A 2010 survey by the National Opinion Research Center determined that 86% of Americans pray; 57% pray at least once a day and 75% at least once a week. Surely then for Christians, the percentage is much higher. Certainly our church does a lot of praying. We have our prayer lists, prayer chains, prayer groups, prayer teams, prayer meetings. We invoke and “benedict” every meeting or occasion and have several prayers in every service. We request prayer for ailments, troubles, decisions, for friends, relatives, ourselves. The last thing we need is someone telling us to pray—right? Maybe, but why does our praying sometimes seem to make so little difference? How can we pray “for effect” so to speak?

Maybe the problem is not so much how often or how much we pray but the nature of our prayers. The most obvious characteristic of our praying is we pray “for.” We are asking for something we want from God—healing, direction, comfort, strength, peace. Now that’s appropriate and important but not primary. And until we get the order right, our praying will be less than what God intends.

Christian prayer begins with listening to God. In silence, in meditation, reflection but most of all the context of the Scriptures. Then we need to respond in praise, adoration and action.

As Eugene Peterson says, such praying is essential to keep the reality of the Good News (vs Bad News) as a basis for living:

“It is hard to believe and much-denied…The sheer quantity of wreckage around us is appalling: wrecked bodies, wrecked marriages, wrecked careers, wrecked plans, wrecked families, wrecked alliances, wrecked friendships, wrecked prosperity” (Peterson, Working The Angles, 15)

It is also essential to maintaining our relationship to God. Only as prayer fills that place in our life can we really pray for effect. Only then does it change us and change the world.

Encouraged To Follow Jesus

Encourage one another daily. -Hebrews 3:13

Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes miss things that are right in front of us? Often it’s because something else has the focus of our attention. The book of Acts in the New Testament provides an example.

Christians, churches are directed to Acts to learn about the early Christian movement and what how it relates today. We rightly are often awed by the explosive growth of the early Christianity community (3000 added in one day). We see the miracles of healing, of deliverance from dangerous situations and other exciting happenings. But there is something else which we might miss.

During my daily reading in Acts one day, something caught my attention: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.” I wondered—“encouraging them…?” As I skimmed Acts (14:22; 15:41; 16:5; 16:40; 18:23; 20:1-2, 12, 32; 27:22, 36; 28:15), it became like a refrain—“encouraged,” “strengthened.” One of the prominent disciples was Barnabas meaning “son of encouragement” (4:36).

Then I remembered the Great Commission: “Make disciples…I’m with you.” And finally a light went on. Encouragement of his people is a priority for God. Having pastored a church, I’m well acquainted with the Sunday/Monday syndrome—a spiritual high followed by a letdown. There’s also the wear and tear of the battle. But the Psalmist declares “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

But encouragement is also about helping a person toward a goal. It is to assist one for effectiveness and achievement. Jesus promises a helper (paraclete=one who stands along side to help), the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Years ago Iowa was beaten by Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament. I remember the Iowa players’ reaction after the game. Of the Duke players they said, “They’re always encouraging each other.”

Encouragement is a key element in discipleship, both being and making. We tend to lose sight of this element, perhaps in the excitement of evangelism and new people coming into the church in Acts. Later, as the apostles return to places where many have come to follow Jesus, their ministry to those Christians is encouragement.

God’s method of encouragement is that human beings filled with His Spirit, stand with one another to encourage and strengthen. We are directed to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

Bothers/Sisters God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another. Any consideration of the way we shape our lives together must keep that in focus.

It Makes a Difference

It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders
that the Most High God has performed for me.
How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.

“For he is the living God
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.
He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth.

Here are two wonderful testimonies to the wonder and greatness of the God of the Bible. Surely, they come from two of the great believers. However, nothing could be further from the truth. They were made by two pagan kings, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. Why? How did this come to be? In both cases these affirmations of God’s greatness were triggered by the faith of his followers. Nebuchadnezzar had thrown Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the roaring furnace and Darius had thrown Daniel into the Lion’s Den because they would not deny God. After God delivered them, both kings were moved to praise. (Read the stories in Daniel 3 and 6)

What a great reminder that, when we trust God, even non-believers recognize God and can come to praise Him.

 

Trust God, No Matter What

Even if he does not.-Daniel 3:18

Maybe you know the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Three young Hebrews were threatened with being thrown into a blazing furnace because they had not bowed to the king’s idol. Their answer was that God could save them. But they added, “even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Job put it this way “though He slay me yet will I trust Him.”

Yes, God can protect us when we stand for right, but even if he does not, are we willing to make the hard choices? Their story has a happy ending, but not all do. The king puts it in perspective. “Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the King’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve of worship any God except their own God.”

Hang in there.

Stand firm, and you will win life.-Luke 21:19

One day Jesus is talking with some people who are admiring the beauty and permanence of the temple. Jesus shocks them by declaring that even the temple won’t last. Then he uses this opening to warn about threats to life: fear, being led astray, self-indulgence. He urges his followers to “stand firm,” “Hold on” (Phillips). The Bible is clear. Endurance is crucial to reaching God’s destination for us. The text in The Message puts it this way “Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”