Archive for the ‘Jesus’ category

Thought du Jour – Love Jesus, Love People

January 25, 2010

I think many people love what Jesus does for them without loving Jesus. There is a big difference. Consider . . .

Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – John 14:15

“And this is (God’s) commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ and love one another, just as has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them.” – 1 John 3:23-24

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
– 1 John 4:20-21

The Manger is Empty . . . and so is the Tomb

December 23, 2009

John 1:1-5, 9-14

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We don’t usually think of the gospel of John when we recount the Christmas story. We tend to go to Luke chapter 2 or Matthew 1 & 2, and rightly so, for they provide the most detailed accounts of Christ’s birth.

Yet the first chapter of John provides us perhaps the greatest summary of the advent of Christ, why He came into the world as a human baby. Jesus is God incarnate – Emmanuel: God with us. The tiny Jewish baby we first encounter lying in a feed trough in a borrowed stable was God in the flesh. He was vulnerable as any other infant – tiny and dependent on the care of Mary and Joseph. But he was also Messiah – the annointed one come to take away the sins of His people. A light of hope and salvation for the Jews and also for the Gentiles.

The Eternal Word, Sovereign God, voluntarily cast off most of His divine powers and humbled Himself, taking on bone and flesh to live as the Light of the World. This same baby would grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. As a man, he would incur the disfavor of the religious establishment, ultimately to lay down His life (again, voluntarily) for our sakes by suffering a terrible death on a Roman cross. He was then buried in a borrowed tomb. End of story . . . ?

No.

Oh sure, many are happy to leave Jesus as a baby, still lying in a borrowed manger.

Others are quite content to leave Jesus as a dead man, still lying in a borrowed tomb.

But the manger is empty.

And so is the tomb.

The Light of the World still shines on. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . . and He lives on today!

Merry Christmas.

Discipleship: Program or Process?

June 10, 2009

A question I ponder frequently is – how are we doing making disciples?

Southern Baptists (in general) tend to be very program-oriented, and that is apparent in many of our discipleship ministries. Churches offer short-term courses that deal with marriage, finances, parenting, or biblical themes. Often, this involves sitting in a class-room watching and listening to a talking head on a TV screen while we fill in the blanks of a workbook.

Yes, I do find value in (some of) these courses, but part of me wonders how well they really work in making disciples? I think there must be more.

I came across a great post by Michael Spencer on his “Jesus Shaped Spirituality” blog that addresses this question. It’s great food for thought – I hope you will give it a read: The Jesus Disconnect – The Process of Discipleship.

So . . . how are we doing? Let me know what you think after you read Michael’s post.

Essential Practices of the Small Group Leader #8: Point People to Jesus

May 4, 2009

Let me ask a question of those that teach Sunday School or lead a small-group Bible study – If someone were to attend your class for, say six weeks, would they have encountered Jesus?

No, I’m not speaking of a vision or audible voice. But would that person have understood that Jesus is at the center of who we are, what we do and why we exist as a church? Would that person know that the gospel message is all about Jesus? Would that person have any idea how to have a relationship with Jesus, or sense that such a relationship made a difference in the life of the group leader or other members of the group?

I ask these rather blunt questions because the answers tell us whether we’re pointing people to Jesus or to something else – “church-ianity,” moralism, legalism, or perhaps an inoffensive Jesus who was a nice teacher and said some nice things but didn’t really mean all those things about being the only way to the Father.

I’ve become convicted of the urgency of Christ-centered teaching of late, so if you sense that I’m pointing a finger, rest assured that four are pointing back at me. Although I do not teach a small group every week, I teach on a fairly regular basis as a fill-in. I often wonder, especially if someone is present for the first time in a class, whether the lesson I teach ultimately points a person to Christ – or at the very least, helps them along the way to meeting Him.

Yes, I believe in teaching the “whole counsel of God,” in the sense that I believe all of the Bible is God-breathed and serves to teach us about God’s character and our need for redemption. But I fear that we sometimes miss the bigger picture in our teaching. Do we connect the dots between the fall of man in Genesis and our need for a redeemer in the gospels? Are we helping people see the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that clearly point to birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ? Is our first priority, as Paul proclaimed, to “proclaim Jesus, and Him crucified?” If that is not at the forefront of our teaching, then I believe we neglect the central message of scripture.

If our mission is to be about kingdom business, then it behooves us to introduce people to the King. The person of Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – is that King. He is the one who humbled himself, taking on the form of a mere man – born in a stable, worked as a carpenter, healed the sick, raised the dead, ate with sinners, taught with authority, confounded the religious, lived a sinless life, gave his life willingly on a Roman cross, paid the penalty for our sins through His death, overcame death and the grave when he rose again on the third day, appeared to many, ascended to heaven, promised the Holy Spirit, gave the great commission, and promised to return one day. That is the One we point to.

Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Without Him, everything else is meaningless – just empty ritual and dead religion. As Paul said –

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 10-11.

There are many wonderful priniciples to be found in the Bible. We should teach them all. But let’s make sure that we let people know that Jesus is at the center of it all. If we do not, all of our doctrine, beliefs, practices and effort are meaningless. Above all, the world needs Jesus – undiluted, undiminished and without apology – the risen Savior and Redeemer for all mankind.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“But what about you?” he (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 16:15-16

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:35-40

Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #5: Be Flexible

January 27, 2009

In my college years, I had the privilege of serving as a summer missionary. One bit of advice from that summer has stuck with me:

“Be flexible.”

I realize that these “Essential Practices for Small Group Leaders” entries have focused on preparation, planning, taking charge, etc. etc. But we have to be careful not to be so prepared, so pre-planned, so in-charge that we become rigid when God wants to do some flexing. Our plans are not always God’s plans.

If you want to bang your head on the wall in frustration now, I’ll wait. (Cue music from Jeopardy.)

Let’s step back a moment and consider the life of Jesus. When He began His public ministry, He knew what He was doing, where He was going and His ultimate purpose – an appointment with a Roman cross. Yet, Jesus still allowed for some detours along the way. Jesus stopped to bring sight to the blind. He stuck around to eat supper with Zaccheus. He welcomed little children that flocked to Him. In short, while He never lost sight of His purpose and appointment with Calvary, He always made time for people. Jesus loved people – enough to die for them.

A number of years ago, I was leading a Sunday School conference and got into an unexpected argument with a pastor over programs v. people. From his perspective, programs drive the church and the people should “get with the program.” To be fair, I know this pastor pretty well and can say that he genuinely loves people; but it shows how we can become inflexible in our thinking and our actions. In other words, we can become very efficient at “church work” while completely missing out on the real work of the church – making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Getting back to our small groups, I still stand by my original points. Bible study leaders should be well-prepared before presenting a lesson to a group. At the same time, we need to be sensitive for those times when God wants to move beyond the lesson we’ve prepared to a unique encounter with Him. The catalyst might be a question from a group member, a prayer request, or an event that occurs in the life of the community or nation. In short, we need to be prepared to step back when we sense the Holy Spirit leading the group time in a different direction.

Sure, that may mean setting aside a few hours of study and planning, but God will still honor that time you spend in preparation – even if it is only for your personal edification.

Being flexible does not mean we follow every whim or chase every rabbit that pops up in our group time. Sometimes we exhibit flexibility with a minor shift in our presentation or by editing content. The main point is we don’t want to be so rigid in what we do that we miss out on those divine appointments that can arrive unexpectedly.

A good biblical illustration is the contrast between the sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha was organized and prepared as she planned her work and worked her plan. It is evident that  her plans included Mary helping with the meal preparation. Mary, however, got caught up with Jesus . . .

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Matthew 10:38-42 (NIV)

I have a confession to make. I really sympathize with Martha. She was working hard to prepare a meal for Jesus and His disciples. She exemplified hospitality and hard work (good traits in a small-group leader, by the way!). I can identify with her frustration – Mary was supposed to help Martha, yet she wasn’t with the program – leaving Martha to fend for herself. Martha became frustrated, fearing her work for the Lord (in her mind, serving a meal) was not getting done properly. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been frustrated when others in your group seem to go off on a tangent, leaving your careful preparation and presentation in the dust?

The interesting thing here is that Jesus wasn’t the least bit concerned with the meal. Nor was he upset by Martha’s frustration. He simply wanted to spend time with Mary and Martha, to share words of encouragement and hope. Mary set aside her plans and chose what was better – sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha (bless her heart!) was so preoccupied with her own plans and preparation that she actually scolded Jesus! Jesus exhibited patience with Martha by gently chiding her – “Martha, Martha . . . You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed . . .”

When our own preparation and plans unravel, when we feel that our finely crafted lessons are being left by the wayside, remember this . . . only one thing is needed. What is that one thing?

The one most important thing that can happen to anyone in our group is that they encounter Jesus. Everything else is secondary.