Monthly Archives: April 2015

Discipleship – fruitful only with persevering commitment

Every college and university with an athletic program annually contacts possible recruits.  After the initial contacts, with the follow-up needed to gain a commitment, recruiters await the decision of the recruit, his or her value determining the angst experienced by the recruiters.

A recruit’s initial interest, or oral commitment, doesn’t automatically “seal the deal.”  In April, 2015, a young man from Seattle changed his commitment from San Diego State’s basketball program to Oregon’s basketball program.  A young man who had committed to Arizona State “de-committed” when State’s coach was fired.

We don’t know at the time of writing how these, and other changes, will affect the athletic programs of the schools.  We do know the above procedures have spiritual implications.  Consider a few.

One, God recruits every accountable-age person as a disciple of Christ.  Taking no account of our color, race, or sex, God demands only faith in his Only Begotten Son.

Two, God never inquires into our mental, economic, emotional, or spiritual prowess before calling us.  While he may have use for particular giftedness—the apostle Paul’s mission to the Gentiles as an example—God knows his Spirit will have to make all disciples equal to their calling, the apostle Paul’s ministry not excepted.  Christ’s choice of the Twelve proves how essential God’s Spirit was and is to successful discipleship.  As this writer has repeatedly stressed in his multi-volume series Their Own Best Defense, an unlikelier group of spiritual incompetents couldn’t have been found in Israel.

Three, Jesus found that potential recruits experienced fluctuating feelings about him.  They ranged from curiosity, to interest, to conviction, to commitment.  Andrew and John, the first duo of the initial six disciples, who with them and Eleven of the Twelve proved permanent followers.  The treacherous Judas, with all their original faith, but lacking their perseverance, ultimately betrayed.

Luke, a disciple of Christ from at least the early part of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, remained faithful to Jesus.  He also became the famed chronicler of Paul’s life and work.  He remained with the apostle after his second imprisonment and coming death.  Demas, who actively served with Paul, eventually left the spiritual life for the call of secular Thessalonica II Timothy 4:10.  John Mark began as promising helper of Paul and Barnabas, soon faltered in his commitment, returned home, contemplated his decision, returned to his calling and became author of the Second Gospel.

Jesus calls us…everyone…plays no favorites…uses each as fruitfully as we allow…never casts us out…gives us the freedom to walk away.  What kind of recruit will we be of our Recruiter?

Discipleship – learned, not instinctive

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion highlights a Cockney girl’s effort to become an English Lady.  Eliza Doolittle so overcame habit, environment, language, and culture that her debut at a garden party fooled everyone.  Her performance was so good she frightened Higgins’ friend Pickering.  She performed better than many REAL people naturally lived.

Becoming a Christian and being a disciple are two aspects of the Christian life.  Becoming a Christian is open to all, at our leisure or haste, by our decision.  Being a disciple of Christ is so unlike our natural state that, like Eliza Doolittle becoming a Lady, we must learn it by persevering industry.

Whatever fruit the Spirit grows in our mind comes from his presence, not our innate ability.  We may provide the soil in which Gospel seed falls.  Only the Holy Spirit can germinate, fertilize and mature it to 30, 60, or 100 times the seed planted.

Let us determine to be the good soil the perfect Gospel seed deserves.  Let us exert all possible effort to produce the fruit of the Spirit.  And let us always be aware that only God can work in us “to will and to act according to his good purpose” Philippians 2:13.

 

Christ – an opinion about isn’t the same as Jesus himself

According to historian Will Durant, the Jesus of da Vinci’s Last Supper is weak and uninspiring.  It may have been because the artist exhausted his creativity searching the streets of Milan for just the right model for the apostles, leaving him little time to develop the Master’s portrait.

What is likelier, drawing the face of Jesus demanded a spiritual depth da Vinci never had.  Perhaps that’s why the artist focused on the instant Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.”  The artist could capture the disciples’ response, being but a mortal.  He could never seize the majesty of Jesus Christ, being but a secular mortal.

It’s one thing for an opinion to be held abut Jesus.  Most everyone in the world holds an opinion of Jesus.  It’s another to have a Biblical understanding of Jesus.  That comes only from reading the New Testament and especially the Gospels.  We can settle for a superficial knowledge of and relationship with Jesus.  Many do.  But only a Biblically-fueled knowledge of and Spirit-led relationship with Jesus BEGINS to deepen our discipleship.  Begins…with no End ever in this world.

Success – can depend on a bad memory

While not a devotee of Eleanor Roosevelt I admire her perspective on failure.  She discussed it with Edna Ferber.  She admitted to no energy source denied others; and to no special illumination in planning daily activities.

Like everyone else she determined a plan and followed it.  She followed it until it succeeded or failed.  She continued, whatever success she enjoyed and despite any failure she experienced.

Above all, she didn’t waste time mourning over what might have been IF ONLY….  For example, should a speech disappoint her or her audience, she simply determined to do better the next time.  Concentrating forward energized her and enabled her to escape energy-depleting regret.  She learned to do her best, then continue.  She learned from her mistakes without mourning over them.  And she learned to start again, forgetting the past.

Did we ever stop to think that the ability to forget is also a blessing?  While a retentive memory treasures past joys, a gracious forgetfulness obliterates past blunders.  The apostle Paul stressed this point.  “…Forgetting what is behind,” he wrote in Philippians 3:13, “and straining toward what is ahead, I press on….”  Could he ever have lived in peace with himself if he hadn’t learned to forget his brutal crimes against innocent Christians?

So with us.  Today will have its share of errors.  We’ll either remain silent when we should speak, or we’ll mis-speak when we talk.  Or we’ll trivialize the sacred and maximize the profane.  Whatever mistake we can make, we will.  The one we can’t possibly make we will anyway.

How will we respond?  Live haunted by our humanity?  Or respond to God’s grace or forgiveness by learning from our sin/mistake/failure?  Give up because “we can’t do anything right”?  Or try again because “we can do better next time”?  Continue to try or surrender to self-destructive regret?

Repent if that’s necessary.  Above all, willingly accept God’s indulgent forgiveness.  And, “forgetting what is behind,” go on in Christ’s persevering strength.  Note:  No Blog till 4/27

Punishment – rejected even when wrong is admitted

A few years ago a young man killed a girl and threw her body in a deserted area.  He admitted the crime when arrested.  He even took detectives to the body.  When charged and prosecuted for the murder, however, he grew incensed.  He considered that admitting the crime, then volunteering to reveal the location of the body would exonerate him.

In his book Operation Last Chance Efraim Zuroff found the same attitude in Eastern Europe when hunting former Nazis collaborators against Jews.  It was “relatively easy” to draw admissions of guilt from those involved.  Eastern European governments, including the Baltic republics freed from Russian domination in the 1990’s, expressed regret over the inhumanity of those years.  They also apologized for the wickedness of their people in hounding and harassing Jewish civilians.  But, both the individuals involved at the time, and the governments looking back at the time, considered that acknowledgements, regrets, and apologies were sufficient to protect them from judicial action.

That’s the killer-boy all over again.  He’s the killer-Europeans all over again.  They’re all the wicked sinners in every age all over again.  Some of us only reluctantly admit we’re sinners.  Some more freely.  Some with no reservations at all.  But how many of us admit we deserve God’s punishment beyond this life for our sins?  After all, don’t we suffer enough in this world?  Don’t we bear burdens now, some directly from our mistakes?  Is it necessary for us to continue paying after death for sins we feel death itself should forgive?

Sorry, dreamers.  As II Corinthians 5:10 makes clear, God holds us accountable at Judgment for every unforgiven sin.  The only way to be exempt is to have Christ’s sacrifice forgive us.  The only way we can be righteous before God is to be declared righteous by our faith in Jesus Christ.

Serendipity – our “accidental” friend

The word serendipity is attributed to English author Horace Walpole.  He in turn derived it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendib.  The term means to make worthwhile discoveries by accident.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 10th Edition.

Consider a few examples.

An antique expert went to look at a painting in an English home.  While there he spied a blue and white vase being used as a flower pot.  It proved to be a rare Imperial Ming vase from 15th century China.  Worth:  $700,000.

Obviously, serendipity can more easily exist in endeavors where experts poke around.

The earliest settlers of America’s Midwest headed for the forests.  Their experience in the East taught them that trees produced fertility of soil.  Latecomers to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio had to content themselves with the grass-covered prairies.  And so began the agricultural boom in those states.

Obviously, serendipity can occur when we have no choice but to look somewhere unwanted and go somewhere undesired.

Charles Goodyear experimented fruitlessly five years searching for a way to make rubber practical.  And found it one summer day when he accidentally dropped some of the goo on a stove top—and lo, the process of vulcanization.

Obviously, serendipity can occur as certainly by mistake as design.

Whether we think we CAN, or think we CAN’T, we’re probably right.  While a positive attitude can expedite serendipity, it’s no guarantee.  Perhaps the surest way to discover serendipity isn’t so much talent, attitude, or pursuit of a goal.  Its first requirement is to be OPEN to the surprises, changes, and interruptions we didn’t anticipate.

People – always the most important

Cimon served as a late sixth to middle fifth century BC Athenian general and statesman.  He proved as wise in peace as illustrious in war against Persia.  In one campaign he took many captives and great plunder.  He separated the prisoners of war from the pillage, then bade his allies take their choice.  Naturally, they took the spoils and divided it among themselves, leaving Cimon with the naked prisoners.

Undaunted, he accepted his prize and cared for them.  Later, when friends and kinsmen ransomed the POW’s, they paid such high prices that Cimon became an extremely wealthy man.

What value human life has!  However important commodities are, however valuable gold and silver, however significant our natural resources, people are still our most important asset.  The needs of people take precedence over all other duties, demands, and desires.  Things can wait.  People’s needs oftentimes can’t.  Things can be replaced; but how do we give back a human life?

God is interested first in people, not in programs, buildings, or organizations.  For people alone have immortal souls.  Things can’t hurt the way people do.  A hole in a suitcase may not mend, but the suitcase won’t know it has a hole.  Put a hole in a man and he bleeds and may die.  Things can’t feel pain of loneliness or the delight of companionship.  People feel both.

Jesus always valued people; can church leaders value property or programs more?  Jesus always attended human needs without pay; can church leaders pay personal attention to members only at budget time?

Today…everyday…remember that, whatever else matters, only people count.  For everyone of us is specially made in the Image of God.  That makes us distinct from all the other creations of God.

 

God – sovereignty of in history

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed February 2, 1848, ending the Mexican War.  Though he had been officially relieved of his post by President Polk, Nicholas Trist remained in Mexico as the President’s envoy and signed the pact.  While Polk wanted more land than the treaty allowed, the acquisition filled out the territory of this country.  The later Gadsden Purchase added southern areas of Arizona and New Mexico.  The U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty May 30, 1848.

The greatest immediate benefit of the acquisition was the future western states gained.  Not two weeks before the Treaty was signed, on January 24, 1848 James Marshall saw gold flecks in a tailrace on the American River in California.  By that small margin the gold discovered belonged to America, not Mexico.  Distant Horizon, 372

Three points of interest exist.  One, gold had previously been discovered by a Mexican outside the then-Mexican village of Los Angeles.  Though broadcast, having the discovery made by a Mexican discredited it.  Two, had the province remained Mexican, Marshall’s find would still have been broadcast far and wide.  That would have brought a flood of prospectors from the states in 1849.  Mexico would have necessarily defended its sovereignty, and war would have resulted.  Three, the gold of California, and silver from the Comstock Lode, financed the Union during the Civil War.

Whatever must happen in history to achieve God’s sovereign will over history DOES HAPPEN.

Discipleship – more supportive the deeper it gets

An inch of pond ice may support a small child but not an adult.  Two-inch thick ice can support a standing adult; but cracks if he jumps on it.  Three-inch thick ice can support a skater standing still; but cracks if the skater bounces on it.  Four-inches of ice can support two tons of weight.  Which is why fishing is allowed only over water covered with that thickness of ice.  The capability of ice to support weight increases exponentially with each inch of thickness.  Weather Channel Barnstormers, 3/10/15

Christian discipleship is like that.  Using Christ’s Parable of the Sower/Soils as our baseline, the mindset of wayside soil won’t produce discipleship.  And that of rocky or thorny soil produces only inch-thick-ice-stage discipleship.  Only good soil gives discipleship the anchor of depth in a relationship with Christ.

By the very nature of discipleship, the new Christian is almost always shallow in faith and commitment.  The older, but spiritually-stunted Christian may be equally shallow.  Each can tolerate only so much stress of effort or trouble before breaking.

The believer who’s willing to extend his faith into the depths of black, nutritious Gospel loam systematically strengthens his faith.  As he does, he finds that it absorbs significant blows and survives difficult challenges.  Like four-inch deep ice, Gospel-fed discipleship remains intact while it systematically absorbs ever-harder blows, ever-tougher challenges, ever-more demanding roles.

Now…here is good news.  God’s won’t impose heavier loads on a Christian able to bear only  lighter ones.  A caveat, however.  Whatever load we can bear he will likely increase incrementally.  So that by bearing them, we can prepare ourselves to later carry heavier ones.  He may even overburden us to the point of collapsing, but never beyond it to collapsing.  That’s why we need to be careful how we use I Corinthians 10:13.  We often misquote that scripture as a source of comfort in our trials when it’s really a warning against falling to temptation.

The believer has this assurance.  God won’t impose on a shallower faith what he knows only a more mature faith will bear.  He tailors life’s experiences to what our depth presently supports and adds only enough hardship, burden, cost, challenge, etc., to expand without disintegrating our faith.  His aim is to always deepen without breaking our commitment to Jesus.  By allowing a bit more than we THINK we can bear, he saves us NOW from caving while preparing us to bear heavier burdens later.

Truth – message essential, not messenger

Whether or not Christ’s messengers live their teaching, they must teach his truth.  He made that clear in Matthew 23:1-3a.  Should we say, “don’t teach anything you haven’t experienced,” we immediately have too little to say; indeed, little more than people already know.

The experience of Cortes’ men in Mexico explains why.  While the Aztecs slowly responded to the Spanish invaders, they fought ferociously once aroused.  Skillfully led, their warriors retook at night positions lost by day but left unguarded.  By night the Aztecs deepened holes in the canals into which the enemy would fall and drown.  They planted stakes in the water on which Spanish launches were impaled.  They replaced warriors exhausted by the day’s fighting with men anxious to contest the invader.

Unable to replenish his strength, Cortes kept all his troops in the line.  As the battles continued, they had to fight all day, every day, wounded or not.  Then, at night had only oil to rub on wounds.  Every soldier possible, even the wounded, would turn out at daylight, for without the wounded fighting, few company’s would have enough troops.  They returned to bivouac each night exhausted, in pain, clothes torn.  But, at each reveille, reported in their rags, to fight again.  Prescott, Conquest of Mexico, 416

The spiritual lesson:  no Christian ever serves on the line contesting Satan without being hurt or wounded.  While our sins are forgiven, the limitations posed by our humanity remain.  We make mistakes, draw wrong conclusions, put too little or too much into any particular effort.  And sometimes, despite every effort to succeed, we fail.

We never serve Jesus because it’s always exciting, easy, or rewarding.  Or because we invariably conquer and never lose.  Indeed, all Christians are wounded in some way.  When the battle cry sounds, and Jesus looks for warriors, he never expects spit-and-polish volunteers to step forward.  The ragged, wounded, and exhausted will do just as well.  He never wants us to find an excuse not to serve, nor a reason to be exempt from THIS day’s trials.