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All In

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. -Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

Recently in my daily reading these two verses caught my attention. Specifically the phrase “it is with your heart that you believe” set me on one of those “I wonder…” paths which has lasted for a couple of weeks.  I keep coming back to these questions: “Why did the apostle not just say “believe”? Why “believe in your heart” and “with your heart…you believe”? Don’t we generally connect believing with the mind, with the head? I think I do.

However, there is a problem with that. Have you ever done something and said “my heart was just not in it”? Have you ever made a statement which you accepted as true but which didn’t make a lot of difference to you? I think there are many people who accept the story of Jesus as being factual, true but which has little effect on them. As Pastor Steve put it, they’re not “invested” in it. It’s a little like someone throwing you a rope and saying “catch this or it will hit the ground” vs “catch this so I can pull you out of the river to prevent your drowning.” Both statements are true but there’s a world of difference between what they mean to me.

When the Bible uses the word heart, it is usually referring to the whole person, with all that may infer. Yes, it involves my mind but also everything else about me. To believe with my heart is to say, “I’m all in.”

As a follower of Jesus, am I all in? Are you all in?

 

 

 

It’s Not Enough

Although he had performed so many signs (miracles) in their presence, they did not believe in him. -John 12:37

“Seeing is believing” is a statement so universally accepted that it seems to be self- authenticating. Yet in this remarkable statement, we find a situation directly contradictory to that idea. And it is not unique in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry. In John’s gospel it is a very common reaction.

If we were not so used to it, it would astound us.  They saw the lame healed, the deaf given speech, the blind sight and the dead given life AND THEY DID NOT BELIEVE! Many signs equaled few disciples.

On closer study it becomes clear that John and the New Testament distinguish between simply believing facts about Jesus and as it is put here, “believing in him.”  It is the difference in believing something to be true and acting on that belief. It is not just agreeing with him, but trusting him enough to follow him.

And make no mistake about it; that is the difference between salvation and lostness, life and death, heaven and hell. Jesus really wants followers, not just admirers. click here to begin.

 

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 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?

The Awful Gift

I have set before you life and death….Now choose life. –Deuteronomy 30:19

We all probably have received a gift of something which we didn’t really want.  That ugly picture which Aunt Sally gave us, she expects to see hanging on a wall every time she visits.  Some gifts, ugly or useless in themselves we cherish because our son or daughter (or grandchild) made it.  Usually, a gift is appreciated, valuable or not, if we know the motivation is one of love or care for us.

Did you know the most awful gift you’ve ever received came from God and was motivated by pure and perfect love.  It was also incredibly expensive.  That’s crazy you say.  We know “every good and perfect gift comes from God.”  God doesn’t give bad gifts.  However, awful is not the same as bad.  In fact, the awful gift is also  a wonderful gift.

What is this awful but wonderful gift?  It is the freedom to choose against God, to reject God, to choose not to believe God, to trust God, to love God.  In fact, it is the freedom to choose death.  It is wonderful because it means we can also choose for God, to love and serve God.  You can’t have one without the other.  To freely choose God is greatest of all choices, but that means it is possible to make the awful decision to “go it” without God.

And make no mistake, ultimately it is always a choice.  What’s your choice?  Click here for help on choosing.

Abundant Life

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  John 10:10 (NRSV)

          The bumper sticker said: “If you don’t think money can bring happiness, you don’t know where to shop.”
          I read about a church near San Francisco that recently advertised a “money-back guarantee”?  “Donate to the church for 90 days, and, if you aren’t blessed, you can have your money returned.”
          As these two anecdotes illustrate, we live in a consumer oriented society.  Someone has said, we chose “churches not so much to meet God and surrender to his revealed ways as to satisfy some personal need.”
            It is hard for a culture—materialistic, affluent, and self-indulgent like ours–to hear a Biblical text like the one this morning without distorting its meaning.  “I am come that they might have life…abundantly.”
            On the other hand, in southern Mexico where believers are being persecuted, how does it apply to the widow and children of Presbyterian. lay preacher, Malecio Gomez, 32, killed in a hail of gunfire and whose body was hacked with a machete?  In a world where a child dies of hunger every 5-6 seconds, 18,000 a day, what does it mean?
            It certainly does not mean security from illness, pain, death, or provision for everything we want.  With almost monotonous repetition, John keeps telling us, not new things but confronting us with the choice to trust Jesus.
            For those who have trouble experiencing the reality of the abundant life or who confuse it with worldly goods and comfort, Jesus offers himself.  It is about our relation to Him.  We belong to Him and He is that life, the abundant life.

I Want You

             After the dramatic impact of Jesus’ resurrection, it is easy to see all the rest of the story as anticlimactic.  That is a mistake!  What takes place here has great significance in God’s scheme.
            What bought them together?  Stories they had heard?   Their state of mind and atmosphere?  They were talking about Him!  He was there!  And with the word “peace,”  He calmed their fears, as He showed His side and hands.  When they SAW, (the word of spiritual perception) “they were glad.”  What a wonderful understatement!
            Then Jesus speaks words that forever establish the primary motivation of His disciples—“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And there you have in black and white: JESUS’ CHOICE.  And I can only shake my head in wonder.
            Do you remember children choosing sides for a baseball game?  It gets down to that last little boy.  Jesus’ choice is like choosing that smallest, least capable player first.
                             OR
            Like an expansion draft when the only players are those left over from other teams.  These people are “proven failures”, and they (we) are Jesus’ choice.
            One of the great truths emphasized over and over in this gospel is that the Son is sent by the Father.  Now He sends His followers—commissions them.  In the way He had been sent by the Father, He in turn sends them.  William Barclay was right when he called it “The commission which the Church must never forget.”  JESUS IS DEPENDENT ON US, you and me!  Unless we do it….” as the Father has sent me so I send you.”  WITH
______  THE VERY SAME AUTHORITY.  We go not on our own initiative.  But we are sent, backed up by God almighty.
______  THE VERY SAME SPIRIT.  This Spirit equips them with what is needed to carry on.
______ FOR THE VERY SAME PURPOSE.  The Primary reason for  gift of  Spirit is to witness to Jesus!
            There are times we need to soften our sense of self importance but  as William Temple says, “it is impossible to exaggerate the greatness of our calling.”
            What about you—sister, brother?  Even if you count yourself as a proven failure, Jesus stands before you today and like the Uncle Sam poster points his finger and says,

            __________I want you

            __________I want you

You are his choice!  Go with authority, Spirit, and His purpose, to rescue from sin and death to eternal life.  And live as God intends.

Americans connect to Jesus

We hear much about how Americans are turning away from the church and organized religion.  But there is another side to this story.  A recent study by the Barna group shows that Americans relate to Jesus in significant numbers and perhaps surprising ways.

Read about it.

When Jesus says, “Follow me.”

Luke 5:1-11
v11  So they … left everything and followed him.

Empty nets
It has been a long frustrating, fruitless night for Simon and his two partners, James and John.  All night long they have fished.  They have let down their nets, time and again and gone through the back-breaking process of drawing the nets to shore—empty!  They have tried different angles, different places, everything they can think of, every trick they know after many years fishing this lake.  Nothing worked.  Finally as the sun rises, exhausted and in a poor mood they pull their boats up on shore and begin the job of washing their nets—a final blow to their spirits—washing the nets which have remained empty all night.

Some nerve
As they go through the motions of this difficult and monotonous routine, out of the corner of Peter’s eye, a crowd appears by the lake.  In the center is a man surrounded by people pressing to get as close as possible to hear what he is saying.

As they watch and strain to hear what he’s saying, he walks over to Simon’s boat and gets in it.  “He’s got some nerve, Simon thinks to himself.”  Then he realizes who it is.  It’s the man Jesus he has been hearing about.

“Simon, could I trouble you to put your boat into the water and move out a little way from the shore?”

I’ll do it
For some reason, Simon does what he asks.  And he listens to what he says.  And he has never heard the likes of it before—no one every spoke like him.  Nice words, but just words!  Then he finishes speaking and Simon hears him speaking to him.  “Go out into deeper water.  Over there, cast your nets.”  Simon is too tired to argue and senses the easiest way to get out of this is to humor him.  Still he can’t resist protesting.  “We’ve fished all night and caught nothing, but I’ll do it.”

Fish and more fish
And then as they begin to draw the nets in they see fish—more fish then they’ve ever seen in a net.  It’s more than they can handle.  Some of the strands of the net begin to break.  The call for help—the second boat comes and the weight almost sinks them but finally they get the catch to shore.  They are astonished, frightened, elated, mystified.  Suddenly they realize they are in the presence of the holy and they are reminded of their Un holy lives.

Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch people.
And they left everything and followed Jesus.

This story reminds us that GOD OFTEN INTERUPTS OUR LIFE—“Can I borrow your boat?” God gets our attention often in the middle of something else.  It is not always when we would expect—in church, a Bible study, or even during prayer.  It may be on the job (like here), on a journey (The Apostle Paul) or maybe in the midst of our sleep.  A cousin of mine was on a business trip in a hotel room when God called him to ministry.

So it can be a little inconvenient.  I don’t have time right now.  Can’t this wait until later?  Inconvenient, perhaps, but not all that difficult or earth-shaking—it’s something that stops us just long enough— for God to make Himself known—“Try again.”

I can imagine Peter thinking,  “This won’t work.  I’m a life-time fisherman, for goodness sake.  I know how to fish.”  I know how to live my life.

“Try Again.”

“For most people the disaster of life is that they give up just one effort too soon.” Carl F.H. Henry

There is no perfect set of circumstances.  To wait for that is to never begin.  Jesus often asks us attempt the impossible.  This is the first step and when we take it, we find out THIS IS GOD.  We have met the Almighty.  And when we do, like Peter, we realize how unworthy we are.

Now the invitation…
Leave it all.

Nothing less will do. The issue is not everyone leaving your occupation or residence but making your self available to God. For most of us it is about living a new way where we are—job, school, neighborhood.

But make no mistake, God’s call is not to ease and comfort but to adventure/challenge/meaning. Some time ago I read this story:

The great explorer, Sir Francis Drake, was attempting to recruit a number of young men for an upcoming exploration. He gathered them around and told the group that if they came with him they would see some of the most marvelous things their eyes could ever behold—sandy white beaches, juicy fruits, foreign peoples, priceless treasures, and gorgeous landscapes. And he told them that this wild adventure could be theirs if they came with him. Not one of them enlisted for the journey.
The next day a different group came out. Drake told them that if they came with him they would encounter storms that would terrify them into tears. Tiger winds would hammer them and blow them off course for months. Water would frequently be scarce. At times they will be so thirsty that their very souls would cry out for simply one drop of water. In short, danger would always be their constant companion. Drake concluded by declaring that if they could handle these things, the joys of exploration would exceed their wildest dreams. Every single one of them in the group joined Sir Francis Drake that day, some did not even go home to say goodbye to their families, they just boarded the boat eager for the journey.

This is how God calls us. Jesus promises not ease and comfort but a cross and, in the end, incredible joy. He says, “Follow me.”

Picture from the Web Gallery of Art