They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles…(Acts 2:42a)
It’s no coincidence that immediately after Luke reports the conversion of over three thousand people he describes what these new disciples were taught (Acts 2:41-42). This is the sequence we find in the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Thus, sound doctrinal teaching lies at the heart of what it means to be a church that is growing in healthy ways.
But, let’s be honest, many of us equate teaching with tediously theoretical issues. The word “doctrine” itself may turn us off because we associate it with a disproportionately intellectual faith disconnected from the practical problems of life. Some, for example, might say, “Why can’t we just keep it simple. Love God and love your neighbor. Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Let’s not make it more complicated than it needs to be.”
While the Lord Jesus provided us with a helpful means of prioritizing our biblical interpretations around loving God and loving neighbors, he was not giving us a free pass on wrestling with the whole counsel of God. Such reductionistic views of the faith are founded upon the ever-shifting sands of human opinion, not the Rock of our salvation. God has been gracious enough to preserve and to deliver a robust body of teaching contained in the 66 books of the Bible. Not only that, he has promised the ultimate Author—the Holy Spirit—will continue to help us understand what we need to know. To be sure, there’s a lot we don’t know and will never know in this life. Yet we can’t allow what we don’t know to keep us from studying and obeying what God has clearly stated in his Word.
When Jesus was starving in the desert, Satan tempted him to cave in to his human craving for food. In response, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3— “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:1-4). As Jesus’ disciples today, we’re called to digest the same spiritual diet. It’s the same diet that has nourished disciples for two thousand years! To disregard it by only sampling meager portions on the weekends will inevitably result in scrawny, underdeveloped disciples.
Mature, muscular discipleship comes from regularly feasting on the abundance of God’s Word. “Solid food is for the mature, for those who through diligent practice have learned to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Let’s pay more attention to what we’re consuming spiritually. It will make all the difference between feeling famished and feeling “strong in the Lord.”
Our second Community Night was a big success! About 50 people gathered on our front lawn to watch “Moana” and enjoy hot dogs, drinks, and popcorn. The host for the evening was our Minister of Families, Trevor MacPherson, who came in native Polynesian wear. Several volunteers distributed a lei to each guest, grilled the hot dogs, and made the popcorn. And we had several visitors from our local community, which was our plan!
(You can click on the pictures to see larger versions.)
On a daily basis the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
What causes churches to grow numerically? Is it the preaching? The music? The programs? The special events? The staff? The website? The social media engagement? The missions projects? The overall friendliness? I could go on and on! From a sociological standpoint, each of these variables no doubt plays a role in determining whether or not people will “show up.” Consequently, churches can become obsessed with trying to pinpoint exactly what changes will produce the greatest growth in the shortest amount of time.
Despite the attention we give to this issue, it doesn’t seem to have been a problem that troubled our Christian ancestors in the Book of Acts. We never find Peter, James, or Paul wringing their hands and wondering, “What can we do to increase attendance?!” Granted, someone might argue, “Of course they didn’t need to worry about numbers when over three thousand people were being saved at one time!” But this objection overlooks a crucial detail. The Holy Spirit, speaking to us through Luke, always notes God gave the growth. No one else can claim credit.
Does that mean we don’t need to concern ourselves with trying to improve the effectiveness of our services, ministries, and programs? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we should strive for nothing less than excellence in everything we do. The key factor is to ensure we’re using biblical criteria—and only biblical criteria—to measure our effectiveness. Our job is to ask, “Are we doing what our Lord expects his church to be doing?”
To be clear, numbers matter. We can, and we should, use them to evaluate ourselves. Yet our Lord didn’t commission us to go and see how big of a crowd we could assemble. (If he had, I can think of so many other things we could be doing to provide better entertainment!) Christ commanded us to “make disciples of all nations.” That means even if our pews were to be packed, our budget overflowing with surplus funds, our buildings multiplying, and our ministries reaching the multitudes, we could still fail to fulfill our mission.
Imagine: Jesus returns and visits Tabernacle. What do you think he would be most pleased to see? The amount of land we own? The percentage increase in worship attendance? The number of well-attended events we’ve scheduled? The quality of our fellowship? The size and quantity of our buildings? What if Jesus said, “That’s all well and good. Just one question, have you made any disciples?”
So how do we make disciples? This is what we need to ask. I hope to address it in the coming weeks based on the model we find in Acts 2:42-47. Stay tuned!
Our Minister of Families, Trevor MacPherson, took this group of young people and chaperones on a missions trip to Charleston, South Carolina during the week of July 9 – 13. They enjoyed times of worship and devotions, study, missions activities, and recreation — on an average of 3 hours sleep each night!
Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything which I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Who is the default pray-er in your family? When everyone gathers around a table to enjoy a holiday meal, for example, I’m guessing there’s someone who is usually called upon to offer a prayer. As you can imagine, this lot often falls to me. Invariably, after I conclude my prayer, someone will say, “Well, it sure is nice to have a professional around!” While I appreciate the humor, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this comment reveals a problem that has plagued churches since the time of the apostles.
Believe it or not, it’s a persistent threat our own church faces. I’ll call it the myth of the Christian professional. According to this train of thought, Christians can be divided along the lines of a caste system. On the upper tier are those such as pastors, missionaries, and others who’ve been called to vocational ministry. The myth tells us these individuals are not only to exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct, they’re also to be held exclusively accountable for the church’s growth and ministry.
On the lower tier we find all the other “regular Christians.” Their role, says the myth, is to play the part of a captive audience. They’re called to show up and to give their money, but only to the extent that they’re getting something they value from the professionals. If what the professionals are offering fails to meet their standards—i.e. it feels boring, irrelevant, and generally unexciting—the “regular Christians” can either change “Christian professionals” or find other “Christian professionals” more to their liking.
My prayer is for the Lord to protect us from such pernicious lore. As a symptom of our consumeristic culture, it holds out grim prospects for the churches and church members who fall prey to its allure. To fortify our hearts and minds, we need the Holy Spirit to infuse us with a renewed commitment to respond to our Lord’s Great Commission. Jesus entrusted his marching orders to every single believer. Consequently, we are ALL responsible for its fulfillment.
There is no caste system in the Body of Christ. There are no professional Christians. There are no regular Christians. There are only believers purchased by the blood of Jesus and charged with a God-sized mission to see our Father’s glory exalted throughout the nations. May the Spirit show us how to apply our individual gifts to our unified effort to carry out the Great Commission.
We were pleased to have our Chapel Choir and Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Ernie Rushing, present a patriotic musical – Sweet Land of Liberty – to our community on Sunday, July 1. It was a meaningful and grateful tribute to our great country, our Armed Forces and veterans, and to those who have given their lives in service to our country. And then afterward, we celebrated with hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream!
Everyone should be in submission to the governing authorities. For there is no authority apart from God, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1-2).
Our government’s deterrence-aimed policy of separating migrant children from their parents has been roundly—and rightly—reviled. Punishing children for the decisions of their parents is beyond the pale of any Christ-centered understanding of biblical ethics. Yet confusion persists because Romans 13 undeniably admonishes us to show proper respect for civil government. Likewise, the Lord Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). A line of demarcation exists between Christ and Caesar, but what do we do when our loyalty to Christ collides with our loyalty to our nation state?
Historically, Christians have fallen into one of two camps when it comes to Romans 13 and debating government policy. On the one hand are those who utilize Romans 13 to enforce law-abidance and to squelch dissent. Disobeying the government’s laws, this camp says, is equivalent to disobeying God. On the other hand, those who oppose the government’s actions tend to downplay the import of Romans 13. Sometimes they sideline Romans 13 in favor of passages more conducive to the themes of love and mercy. At other times, they argue Romans 13 is only applicable if a government’s laws are just.
Over against these timeworn options, I want to offer a way to give full-throated endorsement to Romans 13 while simultaneously acknowledging that even the most just governments can be guilty of committing injustices. Such perennial tension is never easy to unravel, but I hope these principles derived from Romans 13:1-7 will help us honor God by doing everything we can to live peaceably and honorably as American citizens.
1. Submission need not entail unquestioning obedience. Paul was careful to always show respect to Roman authorities (even in the face of martyrdom!). Indeed, without the roads connecting the Roman empire, without shipping lanes free from piracy, and without Roman administration, Paul’s missionary journeys may have been severely limited.
2. Seeking a change in government need not entail rebellious anarchy. We can vote, advocate, and even fight for righteous causes without succumbing to the chaotic danger of anarchy. Granted, tyrants do not give way easily, and so sometimes revolution for the sake of just government is the only viable alternative (e.g. the ancient Israelites in Egypt).
3. Paying our dues to the government need not entail shortchanging God. God raises up governments and tears them down (Dan. 2:21). Our part is to do everything we can to honor authority while remaining focused on our primary mission to see God’s Kingdom realized on earth as it is in Heaven.
His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3, CSB).
Our VBS theme verse points to the all-encompassing nature of what God has provided for us in Christ. While we certainly never have everything we want, 2 Peter 1:3 promises us that knowledge of Christ can give us everything required for life. By outlining the daily lessons we covered during VBS, I hope to encourage us to depend more fully upon Jesus to receive everything we need.
*Day 1: Jesus cares about me
Bible Story—Luke 15:1-7 (The Parable of the Lost Sheep)
Just as the shepherd in Jesus’ parable goes after the one sheep who was lost, so also the God who rules the universe pursues sinners. We all long to be known. Yet that natural craving often leads us to look for recognition in the wrong ways and in the wrong places. The Holy Spirit summons us from our fruitless pursuits and redirects our desires toward the One who truly cares about us.
*Day 2: Jesus gives me hope
Bible Story—John 11:1-44 (The Raising of Lazarus)
The story of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead shows us that Jesus is powerful enough to give eternal life to those who trust in him. As Lord of both life and death, Jesus has proven his superiority over everything that might threaten our hope.
*Day 3: Jesus helps me believe
Bible Story—John 20:19-31 (Thomas Believes in Jesus)
Even though we cannot see him in person as Thomas did, Jesus promised us we can still know him through faith. In order to put our faith in Christ, we’re called to seek a living and dynamic relationship with Christ.
*Day 4: Jesus loves me
Bible Story—John 13:1-35; 19:25-27; 21:15-25 (The Apostle John sees Jesus’ love firsthand)
By humbly serving his disciples—to the point of dying in their place—Jesus showed us how much he loves us. Jesus’ love isn’t something for us to question or doubt; on the contrary, he has proven his love for us “in that while we were still sinners” Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
*Day 5: Jesus gives me joy
Bible Story—Acts 16:23-34 (Paul and Silas in Prison)
The same joy that inspired Paul and Silas to sing as they remained locked in prison became evident in the Philippian jailer when he learned the secret to ultimate joy, namely, trusting Jesus—and Jesus alone—for our salvation. Such joy can be ours as well!
As they came to the edge of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they passed by Mysia and traveled down to Troas. In the night a vision appeared to Paul—a man of Macedonia was standing and pleading with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:7-9).
On Thursday, May 17, I gathered with some participants of our Golden Hearts ministry at 118 S. Person Street. Tabernacle veterans will, of course, recognize that address as our church’s former downtown location. Believe it or not, a thriving congregation filled with young professionals and college students has been meeting in the building since 2015. It’s called Vintage Church, and they offer three worship services on Sundays. We were all encouraged to see how God is working in and through Vintage Church.
Still, we might wonder, “I thought part of the reason Tabernacle moved to Leesville Road was because downtown Raleigh was suffering from a declining population, but clearly this church is flourishing now that downtown is being revitalized. Did God move Tabernacle out of the way to make room for Vintage Church?” Maybe. But in light of Acts 16:6-10, I want to share another perspective on what has transpired (a perspective I offered during our worship service in Tabernacle’s old building): God uses human setbacks to multiply gospel impact.
Acts 16 is written with the benefit of inspired hindsight. In the moment, Paul and his missionary companions no doubt viewed their setbacks as failures and disappointments. Looking back, however, they could see how God was saying “no” to Asia and Mysia in order to say “yes” to spreading the gospel in Philippi. And look at what came from those setbacks—the Philippian church was formed, Paul’s “joy and crown”! (cf. Phil. 4:1) Consequently, let’s remember these truths as we face setbacks of various kinds.
1. Never use God’s “no” as an excuse to give up on gospel faithfulness; instead, keep working diligently. God directs our paths and gives growth. Our part is to remain unwavering in carrying out our mission.
2. Prioritize the lost. When setbacks send us back to the drawing board, watch for opportunities to share the Good News with those who, like “the man of Macedonia,” need our help. Look for the lost, the hurting, and the forgotten—both near and far.
3. Learn to appreciate that the Holy Spirit’s agenda is sovereign enough to encompass more than we can imagine. Because the Holy Spirit said “no” to Tabernacle downtown, the Lordship of Jesus is being proclaimed at both 118 S. Person Street and 8304 Leesville Road! To God be the glory forever and ever!
The Tabernacle Learning Center for Preschoolers held its annual Graduation Ceremony on May 24, 2018, and its graduates included two of our own children. Congratulations to all graduates, and thanks to the dedication and support of the staff of TLC!
(Click on the pictures below to see a larger version.)
Before we get too far into our current sermon series through the book of 1 Samuel, I want to provide an overview of what we covered in our series through Ruth. Despite its brevity, Ruth serves a pivotal role in the sequence of Old Testament books. While Israel was floundering under the chaotic leadership of various judges (as recorded in the book of Judges), God was providentially working to bring about redemption in Israel. Starting with a family rooted in Bethlehem (cf. Ruth 1:1), God chose to stop the revolving door of leadership in Israel by raising up a king after his own heart (as recorded in the book of 1 Samuel). This king, moreover, would pave the way for the King—the One we know as Christ Jesus.
So what can we learn about those through whom God fulfilled his overarching plan of salvation?
1. The Lord works in and through our hardships for our good and for his glory. Upon finding herself widowed and childless, Naomi came to believe God had permanently rejected her. Naomi was so despondent, in fact, that she chose to change her name to “Mara” (meaning “bitter”). In the midst of her pain and heartache, however, God provided a devoted daughter-in-law named Ruth. Not only would Ruth take care of Naomi, she would also give birth to a son God would eventually use to change the course of history.
2. To find refuge in our hardships we’re called to act in faith. Even though Naomi chose to remain bitter, Ruth chose to humble herself by going to the grain fields to pick up the leftovers. As she did so, she met Boaz—the one person with both the ability and the willingness to help restore their family. Ruth didn’t know what or who she would encounter in the grain fields, but she believed she would never find refuge in despair and isolation.
3. Don’t settle for good gifts; go to the Giver. Once Ruth and Naomi learned of Boaz’s willingness to help, they chose to go to the source. Merely picking up the scraps in Boaz’s grain field was not enough. With Naomi’s encouragement, Ruth went boldly to Boaz to propose marriage. The God who gives every good and perfect gift intends for his gifts to lead us to a relationship with him. Don’t settle for anything less.
4. Understand the difference between restoration and renewal. Naomi never had her deceased husband restored to her, and her dead sons never came back to life. But God did bring about renewal in her life through Boaz and Ruth’s son. God can and does bring about renewal in our lives by giving us new life. Our part is to bring our hurts and hardships before the Lord in faith. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will be you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We have a standing invitation. Will we come?
Come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with music and song. (Psalm 95:1-2).
Gratitude is a fragile thing. If we’re not careful, it can come and go like a thief in the night. Consider Israel’s experience after God had delivered them from the agonizing humiliation of slavery. Initially, they were exuberantly thankful—“Who among the gods is like you, LORD, who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). Yet before long (just one chapter in Exodus, to be precise) they found themselves in the wilderness feeling hungry and indignant— “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in Egypt!” (Exodus 16:3a).
Gratitude is also a powerful thing. It can spread among God’s people like wildfire and inspire us to act boldly. No one works harder, therefore, to sap the fervor of our thankfulness than our enemy, Satan. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b). Satan wants to steal our joy by subversively magnifying what we don’t have instead of what we do have. And Satan knows that if he can plant seeds of bitterness in our hearts and minds, then he can knock us out of the fight.
Consequently, we need to remain vigilant in guarding our gratitude. As we seek to do so, Psalm 95 provides some precautionary guidance—or remedial guidance, if our gratitude happens to be spent already.
1. Remember who God is (95:3-5). If we’re to answer the summons to come before the Lord with thanksgiving, the first step is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all of creation: “In his hand are the depths of the earth…” (95:4a). Reflecting on God’s transcendent qualities enables us to gain perspective on whatever finite trials we may be facing.
2. Remember who you are (95:6-7). The God to whom the universe belongs lays claim to the lives of believers: “for he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (95:7). If we’re God’s treasured possession, moreover, then we can be sure God will never let his flock fall off a cliff. No matter how devastating our circumstances, remember whose we are.
3. Remember what God has done for you (95:8-11). The Lord’s promise to care for us is not merely an abstract concept. It’s grounded in history. Just as the Passover lambs were slaughtered during the Exodus, so also the precious blood of Jesus was shed for sinners like us. Having received what God has done, may the same Spirit who seals us for redemption also guard our gratitude against the heart-hardening assaults of our enemy.
Once again our church participated in Operation Inasmuch by performing acts of service so that we can be the presence of Christ in our community. We began with a breakfast and send-off prayer at the church. Then we broke into groups and went to a laundromat, a fire station, Lake Lynn, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Wyatt Ministry Learning Center and Welcome House. We talked to people at the laundromat about our church, decorated cookies and wrote thank you cards to local firemen, cleaned up trash at the lake, set up an apartment, and did landscaping. Another group organized clothing at the First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh earlier in the week.
(Click on the pictures below to see a larger version.)
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (Romans 12:11).
One of the dear saints from my childhood had a saying, “When you get down, get out.” What she meant was that in the face of discouragement and disappointment (i.e. when we’re “down”) Christians are called to avoid falling into the trap of isolation. While our human tendency is to treat our heartaches with the placebo of self-pity, the only effective remedy is to “get out”—i.e. go serve someone in the name of Jesus!
If you’ve followed the path of Christian discipleship for any length of time you know firsthand how our excitement for the faith waxes and wanes. Sometimes, even though we may earnestly want our spiritual life to blaze like a bonfire, the best we can muster is a mere flicker. These fluctuations are predictable and inevitable. Don’t be caught off guard by them. Instead, learn to embrace your “valleys” and harness them as opportunities to refuel your stamina for the journey ahead. This is the key to maintaining our “zeal” and “spiritual fervor” over the long haul.
Yet what is it about service that results in refueling? After all, going out and dealing with other people’s problems can often feel like the last thing we want to do on the days when we’re feeling down. Notice, however, that Paul’s instructions are not to merely go out and be active. Although getting some physical exercise and/or doing some good in the world can certainly improve our frame of mind, Paul is pointing us to a more specific form of service—namely, “serving the Lord.”
Serving the Lord brings the greatest fulfillment because it restores the vital relationship between our lives and God’s plan for humanity. We were created to live in life-giving harmony with both our Creator and our fellow human beings. But sin intrudes and bends our desires inward on themselves so that we falsely—and often sincerely—believe our ultimate fulfillment will come from satisfying our personal desires for love, acceptance, and happiness.
When we turn to Christ, the One who came to earth to embody the perfect relationship between God and people, we receive the freedom to no longer be ensnared by our false hopes. We can see beyond our own finite worries and catch a glimpse of God’s Kingdom come to earth. Such a glorious vista inspires us with the fuel we need to carry out our calling to be the Body of Christ.
Are you down? Are you discouraged? Has your faith become humdrum? Then let’s get out and serve the Lord together! Not sure where to start? Take a look on the next column and see where you might feel led to serve through Operation Inasmuch on April 28.
On Sunday, April 1, we celebrated the bedrock conviction of the Christian faith—Jesus is risen! Yet celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead doesn’t excuse us from reflecting on the significance of Jesus’ death. Indeed, resurrection presupposes death. Consequently, over the last several Wednesday nights we’ve been studying the question of why Jesus had to die in the first place. For those unable to attend the study, I want to provide the key points we covered in hopes of strengthening your faith in our Risen Lord.
1. Jesus died to demonstrate the depth of God’s love. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, NIV). The desire to be loved is common to the human condition. Among people, however, love is rarely—if ever—unconditional. We might be willing to die for a family member or a loved one, but an evil person? No way! Christ Jesus came to die for sinners, for the least deserving—for you and for me. That’s a quality of love we cannot find in any other source on earth.
2. Jesus died to satisfy the requirements of God’s righteousness. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV). Our predicament as sinners estranges us from a holy and righteous God. Compared to other people we might think we’re pretty good. But other people are not the ultimate standard of judgment; God, and God alone, is. In order for sinners to be reconciled to a holy God, therefore, a substitute must stand in our place. As our church’s statement of faith puts it, “We believe in salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone who assumed the judgment due sinners by dying in our place.” Because Jesus, the Righteous One, died in our place, we can be reconciled to a holy and righteous God. The guilt and condemnation of sin no longer has the final word over the believer’s life.
3. Jesus died to defeat death itself. Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15, NIV). Jesus carried out his incarnational mission to its inevitable end, namely, death. He experienced the just penalty for our sin. As the Lord of Life, however, death couldn’t hold him in the grave. The Son of God triumphed over the power of sin, and he has made a way for the believer to experience abundant and everlasting life.
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
(1 Corinthians 15:54b-55, NIV)
Jesus said, “No one who puts his or her hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
As Holy Week approaches, we all have a decision to make. The question is not whether or not we’re ready to celebrate what Easter Sunday signifies. No doubt we all want to share in the jubilant euphoria expressed by “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” If we believe Jesus has defeated death on our behalf, then who wouldn’t want to follow Jesus into eternal life? But that’s not really the critical question. The question is whether or not we’re willing to follow Jesus on the path that leads to the resurrection.
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
It would be far easier to jump directly from the parade of Palm Sunday to the empty tomb of Easter. Yet that’s not the path our Savior took. If we’re to follow him, we cannot avoid the Last Supper. Jesus knew full well what it means to obey the Father wholeheartedly, even when such obedience calls for saying goodbye to those you love (cf. Lk. 9:59-60).
Though none go with me, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.
We might even wonder why anyone would choose to commemorate something as seemingly bleak and gory as Good Friday. “Surely,” we may think, “it’s more healthy to stay positive and “ ‘keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side…’” Yet that’s not the path our Savior took. He didn’t relish the prospect of Calvary’s agony, but he went—for us. Some will allow the concerns and the pleasures of this life keep them from following (Lk. 9:61-62). Will you? Will I?
My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
Some might question why such bloodshed was necessary. Could the Sovereign Lord of the universe not figure out a better way? “After all,” some may say, “are people really that bad off? Sure, no one is perfect, but did Jesus really need to die to reconcile us to God.” Yet that’s not the reality that sent our Savior to the cross. He didn’t approach the cross in hopes of encouraging basically good human beings to live better. Jesus died on the cross because there was no other way to make hopelessly depraved sinners acceptable to a holy and loving God. Some will treat the cross as optional or as a tragic accident of history. What about you? What about me?
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.
As our only sure and certain hope of salvation, Jesus demands more than our shallow celebrations. He calls for radical and unreserved loyalty. Consequently, may the Spirit use our Holy Week services this year to cultivate such discipleship in us.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
How often have you prayed what the apostles asked of Jesus? Like the apostles, we want to rely on faith to carry us through life’s trials and tribulations. Yet we question whether or not we have enough. “Lord,” we might say, “help me to have enough faith to endure this season of pain.” “Help me to have enough faith to remain sane during this season of sadness and uncertainty.” “Help me to have enough faith to withstand the stress produced by this conflict.” No doubt the earnest desire for more faith resonates with most believers.
According to Jesus, however, faith is measured by quality, not quantity. First, Jesus compared faith to a tiny seed: “If you possess faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and the tree will obey you” (Lk. 17:6). Jesus is saying, in effect, stop worrying about whether or not you have enough. Focus on determining whether or not your faith is wholehearted and genuine. Such faith is powerful—powerful enough to deliver you safely on the other side of any season of life.
Second, as Jesus was wont to do, he told a parable about a master and servants. For the sake of argument, he invited his audience to put themselves in the position of a master wealthy enough to afford servants (quite a stretch considering the social status of Jesus’ first followers). When the servants return from completing their tasks, do you think the master will say, “Welcome home! Sit down and make yourself comfortable while I prepare your dinner!”? Of course not, says Jesus! The master will say something like, “Wonderful, you’ve finished plowing and tending the sheep! Now, get in the kitchen and make my dinner the way I like it!” Servants work at the pleasure of their masters, not the other way around. They don’t expect to be rewarded for simply doing their job (Cf. Lk. 17:7-10). Similarly, disciples maintain a firm grasp on where they stand in relation to the Master. They don’t consider themselves more highly than they ought to.
In light of Jesus’ teaching, at least two points of application come into focus: (1) Christian grammar calls for caution when using the word “deserve.” All we deserve, strictly speaking, is the punishment due sinners. Which Scripture clearly affirms to be death (Rom. 3:23). Consequently, beware of “woe is me” thinking when facing hardship or suffering. Receiving God’s grace should exceed any disciple’s wildest dreams. (2) Instead of wringing our hands and fretting about the quantity of our faith, we’re called to be about our Master’s business. Genuine faith will manifest itself in dutiful action performed unconditionally. May the Lord give us such faith as we get to work!
At that time, large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—indeed, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).
Has this ever happened to you? You’re making a significant purchase or signing a binding contract, either online or in person. It’s time to check a box, make your mark, or otherwise signify your approval. But just above the signature box you notice lines upon lines of miniscule and indecipherable legalese. Even if you could understand it, you know there’s just not enough time to read every word. So, we usually just gloss over it and—for all we know—sign our lives away along with our children and grandchildren!
While this tactic is often utilized with the best of intentions to protect the business with which we’re negotiating, we can’t help but suspect that all the fine print is masking something vitally important. We rightly wonder whether or not someone might be taking advantage of us. And I’m sure you could cite plenty of instances where the fine print came back to bite you or someone you know.
As Jesus was resolutely making his way toward Jerusalem, he noticed that the crowds were quickly multiplying. Maybe they were drawn to his teaching. Maybe they were drawn to his miracles. Maybe they were drawn simply because others were drawn to Jesus, and they wanted to jump on the band wagon. Whatever their reasons, Jesus insisted they all know exactly what they were getting themselves into.
Facing them directly, Jesus said that following him for the sake of rewards was not enough. On the contrary, there would be a cost to pay. Jesus was on his way to lay down his life for the sins of the world. Anyone who would follow him, therefore, must be prepared to do at least two things: (1) love Christ more than anything or anyone else in the world and (2) brace for suffering.
There’s no fine print here. There’s no effort to spin the facts to make them more palatable. Jesus states the cost of finding everlasting life plainly and simply. To follow Jesus is to lay down one’s life for him without exception or qualification. He wants more from us than shallow, lukewarm, and casual obedience. He wants to forgive us, to pour out his grace on us, and to make us holy as he is holy.
As we journey toward Holy Week and Easter this year, may the Spirit lead us to recognize and give thanks for the clarity of Jesus’ call to discipleship. And hearing the call, may we follow wholeheartedly.