So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the tag “discipleship”

Thinking Like Satan Thinks

 

Mark 8:31–35 (NKJV)
31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Peter was sorely rebuked by Jesus. When understood in context its fierceness is appropriate given His teaching that only by losing one’s life for His sake could one truly live. Even though Peter’s words seemed like an encouragement, a genuine concern for Jesus’ well-being and safety, even an attempt to shield Him from suffering and death Jesus knew Peter’s own self-preservation was paramount now that increasingly hostile circumstances were coming.

It is interesting to note that while Jesus “openly” spoke to His disciples Peter’s response was an “aside”, away from the others, perhaps even whispered in His ear. It was almost like Peter thought that Jesus must be mistaken and wanted to correct Him. The upshot is that Peter, a disciple, questioned Jesus, the LORD about the very core purpose of His coming and Jesus knew that to deviate from the Plan even for an instant meant forfeiture of God’s promised redemption of Israel and the whole world.

The immense gravity of this teaching becomes even clearer when the word “rebuke” is considered (ἐπετίμησε). It’s obviously translated ‘rebuke’ in vvs 31and 32. However, in v30 it is translated “warned them” (not to tell anyone that He is the Christ). This is another stern, unequivocal saying to show the disciples that He meant business.
So, the point is that if we think we can avoid self-denial, or avoid suffering for His sake we are really thinking that Jesus didn’t mean what He said. This is tantamount to Satan’s question in Genesis “Hath God said…? And we all know what happened next. There is no way around it; following Jesus means death to self and it’s the only pathway to life and suffering is part and parcel of true discipleship. To think otherwise is to think just as Satan does.

This passage, and others like it, portray Jesus as anything but the lovey dovey Jesus often depicted these days. In fact, Christianity has been reduced, at least by some, to a promise of certain ‘feelings’ like happiness, joy, peace, contentment, and even love as if these are just emotions, that if you don’t feel them you don’t have them.

Take love, for example. Jesus said that “if you love me, keep my commandments” which, in certain circumstances might entail having certain ‘feelings’ but is most certainly not reducible to mere emotions. That is, if we obey the Lord when we ‘feel’ like it, or only if such obedience issues in warm fuzzies, then I’m afraid we are thinking as Satan would have us think. Why? Because feelings are fleeting, always changing, unpredictable, arbitrary and even capricious whereas obedience to His wishes is not. This is why He said “if you love me, keep my commandments” and not “if you love me, you’ll feel good about yourselves”. If the Enemy can persuade us to think certain feelings are necessary to serve the Lord, then the absence of such feelings will assuredly inhibit any spiritual advancement.

I have witnessed, and many others have noted it as well, an increasingly flippant and careless attitude towards this weighty matter of obedience. It is as if people actually think, although probably would never admit it, that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit exist to serve their interests, to insure their success, and secure a trouble-free life. Of course, if many Christian congregations are filled with immature “baby” Christians, all demanding attention and needing to be the center of attention as babies do, then such thinking can be explained. Remaining in such a spiritual state, however, is as unnatural as a grown adult having a tantrum because no one is paying proper attention to their needs. A church filled with crying congregants because they are ‘feeling’ bad about one thing or another is a church filled with people thinking like Satan thinks; the elevation of themselves to the center of attention.

While the disciples displayed egoism, unbelief, misunderstanding and dismay as disciples, the goal Jesus had for them was that they become apostles, “sent forth ones”, the first wave of emissaries preaching the Gospel to the whole world. The book of Acts shows they rose to the task, thinking and acting as Jesus taught them, rebuking people, devils and overcoming all that stood in the way of their proclamation. It is an interesting exercise to compare the goings on in the Acts of the Apostles with what we see in typical American churches today.

The rebuke of Jesus continues, although now with entire churches and regions in view. The opening chapters of the Revelation show this to be the case. It will be a good thing when we all “have an ear and hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” and learn to think like Jesus and not the Enemy.

.W.G. Ryzek

Dumb Christianity-Part 2

Unfortunately, there are some leaders who perpetuate this laziness (see part 1) by assuming their flock is incapable of understanding the ‘deeper life’ that all Christians can enjoy or they are too lazy to pursue it themselves. In other words, they dumb things down because they think their people are dumb and then join them in their dumbness; it’s all really dumb if you ask me. What follows in their preaching, almost by necessity, is suggesting that it’s easy being a Christian, almost like joining a club; “just pray this, sign here and you’re in”. The sometimes pathetically presented “give your life to Jesus, He loves you…” message really distorts what a person is getting into, and why, when becoming His disciple, not to mention giving a false impression of the King of the universe.

It’s true that becoming, and remaining a Christian is the most blessed condition possible for us, being redeemed from sin and hell, adopted into the family of God, being placed as members of His Body, inheriting eternal life (and I don’t mean living forever but possessing the very Life of God Who is Life), participating in the eternal purpose and destiny of creation, and enjoying the Holy Spirit as a constant Companion this side of heaven. However, what they leave out or gloss over is that being a disciple is not easy; it requires discipline (from which the word ‘disciple’ is derived) crosses to bear, a self that must die, enduring various sufferings and persecutions, a lifelong battle against sin, the flesh and the devil, even death at the hands of others, to name only a few. Just look at what the original disciples went through both before and after His Ascension.

Well, time to move on by considering this: faith in God is more than believing that a set of propositions about Him are true, like those contained in the Creeds, for example; it is at the same time about trusting and trusting God cannot be experienced without an ever-increasing knowledge of, and deepening relationship with Him. Jesus was able to speak about the Father intimately and with authority because He and the Father were one and the words He spoke and the works He did came from the Father; Jesus knew and trusted Him. The disciples spoke intimately and authoritatively about Jesus because they came to know and trust Him and upon their witness and experience of Him the Church is built as others through the centuries hear the Gospel, believe its claims and trust the God whose promises bring it all to pass. And so it is with us; to speak of Him, and for Him, we must know Him and know Him well lest people see a distorted Jesus through our actions and our words.

To this end I suggest the following: immerse yourself in Ephesians 1 because it, and the whole book for that matter, is like a guidebook to the Christian life. If you are a Christian, the first few verses of chapter 1 tell you where you came from and where you are as children of God; the following verses (Paul’s prayer for them) to the end of the chapter tell you where you must go. When you begin to master the ideas presented in these verses, comprehend the vision from which they sprang, and appreciate the pastoral heart of Paul (and Jesus, the Good Shepherd) from which they were written, then you will have advanced far in your walk with Him; your spiritual life will change, your witness will carry force and conviction. Devour these words, make them your own, study each one because they open doors to yet greater truth, read them again and again until the fog lifts in your mind and clarity takes its place. And understand this: even though I harp about the shortcomings of churches and their leaders to preach and lead as they should, you are ultimately responsible for “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God working in you.” Don’t be dumb just because others are.

 

 

What’s With This Church Growth Thing, Anyway?

 

In my meanderings around the net looking at Christian websites I’ve noticed more and more manuals, books, seminars, studies, conventions etc. offering to help churches learn how to grow, all for a price of course. Three things came to mind; first, publishers, publishing houses, and writers need audiences in order to keep the wheels turning and keep the doors open. Since church growth is a hot topic many ‘experts’ offer their strategies, sell their wisdom, and make it all sound extremely important and necessary. Now, I may be wrong, but I haven’t found any reference in the Bible that church growth is required or commanded so on a scale of important topics, it ranks pretty low.

Which leads to the second observation; many churches that are into ‘growth’ usually mean numerical growth by ‘reaching the lost’ or something like that. I’ve also observed they seem to be following the pattern of secular corporations in their governance, finances and leadership (at least the independent and non-denominational ones); i.e. the ‘lost’ are like potential customers. In some churches it seems an MBA is superior to an M. Div. for its leaders. I guess the sheer size of some churches (aka campuses) require this kind of expertise; they are called ‘church administrators’ or “administrative pastors” I think. I guess putting a ‘pastor’ as part of the title legitimizes it as a proper ‘ministry’.

Third, big churches mean big budgets and big budgets need big offerings and big offerings need big numbers of people, otherwise the ‘church’ shuts down, goes into bankruptcy, leaders get indicted, or fraud is exposed. It’s sad but these very things are happening across the country with alarming regularity.

Now, let’s consider the meaning of church growth. Does it mean growth in numbers (the body count on any given Sunday) or is it spiritual growth? A quick response might be  “Both, you idiot”.  Ok, I can accept that but if and only if (you philosophy majors will recognize the significance of ‘if and only if’) numerical growth is in proportion to the successful advancement of spiritual maturity in the congregation. “Well”, some might say, “it’s much more difficult to measure spiritual growth than it is numbers.” Exactly… this is why numerical growth is often the main, or only, measure of a church’s or pastor’s ‘successes’. It’s almost like they’re thinking “the people are theologically dumb as a brick and spiritual midgets, but there sure is a lot of them, praise God.”

Well, in case you’re thinking I’m just a cynical grouch, I’m all for church growth.  However, I just think it’s a natural result of a healthy flock, not a lot of ‘creative’ strategizing; sheep beget sheep, after all. In other words, it’s not really that big of a mystery and besides, after all is said and done, it’s God that increases a church anyway. (1 Cor. 3:7) Since this numbers thing is never mentioned in the Bible as an indicator of spirituality but growth in the Spirit is, the number of people attending our church is secondary to how spiritually mature the one’s are who do and what steps are being taken to make them more so. (Acts 16:5) And this has always been the hard part, the long-term challenge, this “making disciples” thing.

I think that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the only church growth manual any pastor or church needs. The first three chapters are a magnificent and profound description of what being a Christian is and how to become more so while the next three show what a Christian should do in practical, everyday life. If its wisdom is taken seriously and implemented faithfully all churches, no matter their size, and every Christian, no matter their age, will grow and thereby be worthy of the calling they have in Christ.

And, by the way, it’s free of charge and written by a great author.

 

 

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