Obedience is More Than Something to Do

A lot of people raised in the church, raised around religious people, grew up with this notion: following Jesus means following all the rules. It means no fun. It means not even thinking about fun. Depending on your age, you remember the blue laws, Sunday drives, boring afternoons.

Why do we teach others that following Jesus can be reduced to following a set of rules? Rules are easier than being in relationships. The Pharisees were experts at this. They had the form of faith, without function. A list of rules to follow allows us to be in control. We choose to follow or not. A list of rules allows us to bargain with God; “Please Lord, allow me into your heaven. I have followed most of the rules, most of the time.”

Whereas, a relationship requires trust, energy, surrender, vulnerability, transparency, self sacrifice, and is, overall harder, but ultimately worth the work. Take a moment, and think about each of those descriptive words in the last sentence. Do any of those words describe your faith journey with Jesus? If yes, how?

Or is your faith journey dominated by: calling on Jesus when life gets difficult, keeping track of your “good” status, counting on it being greater than your “bad” stuff? Maybe your faith journey is marked by Gracism. “I thank you God that I am more deserving of your grace than the person who…hurt me, did this, did that, doesn’t live how I think they should, etc.”

I have the privilege of being on a faith journey with some other men, as we strive to grow more like Jesus. This week we looked at 1 John 5:3-4a “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” To this verse we posed 3 questions:

1. If I am to show my love of God by obedience to Jesus’ commands, how does this not become just a new set of Jewish laws, that ultimately ends in Pharisaic living?
2. If I am to show my love for God by obedience to Jesus’ commands, is obedience up to me?
3. If I am to show my love for God by obedience to Jesus’ commands’ how is it not burdensome?

So here is how I would answer this:

1. Because following Jesus is about our relationship with him, we obey not because the law saves us but because we love & trust Jesus! Jesus, when asked to sum up the greatest commandment in Matthew 22, tells us that we are to love God with all that we are, 100% of the time. Jesus is describing a relationship. Jesus tells us to treat our neighbors as ourselves, again a relationship. Jesus tells us to teach, baptize, remember and make disciples, again all done in the context of relationships. The greatest indictment of the modern era church is that we have reduced disciple making to an assembly line process. Do this, do that, take this class, attend this six week course and we will all be better disciples. However, I believe I have set the ground work for the fact that all that our assembly line discipleship making has achieved is vacuous hollow self justifications, devoid of real, life changing spiritual power. When was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit, asking to understand/know/hear from/be guided by/be convicted by/have a stronger relationship with the Spirit of Father and Son? After all, the Godhead, lives in a relationship within Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. Yes and no, it is up to us! Jesus won’t make the decision for us but; because of our relationship with the Holy Spirit, He is there to encourage, guide, influence, and convict us to choose obedience. How many of us make decisions, devoid of any other relational influence in our lives? We do what we do, and don’t do what we don’t do, to try and please a displeased spouse, an angry boss, garner the attention of a distant parent or a lost child. Our relationships impinge on every aspect of our existence. Why is it, then that so much of Christianity has been striped of it’s relational nature and been replaced with things to do? Is it any wonder that our pews are empty when “leaders” live passionless lives that reflect only themselves rather than the person of Jesus?

And finally,
3. Obedience to Jesus does not become burdensome because of our relationship, for we know he wants only what is best for us. Do not translate “not burdensome” as easy. Obedience will always be a conscious act of our will. However, as our relationship grows stronger with our savior, that relationship begins to influence our thinking and our decision making, and transforms our acts of rebellion into acts of faithfulness.

Here is how some of my dusty brothers chose to answer these questions…

“My love for God is not burdensome because I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. Nothing is impossible with God. By being obedient to Jesus I am in my Savior’s love…”

“…our obedience is not burdensome because it’s relational. When we care about someone, even hard work has meaning…”

“We love Jesus! Therefore we follow Jesus’ teachings! Therefore we love others.”

So how about you? I would welcome your answer to these three questions and your insights and thoughts. In the comments section below, join us on the journey of growing our relationship with Jesus.

Jesus in a Bottle is Not Discipleship

I am not sure when it became en vogue to treat Jesus like a genie in a bottle and God the Father as His more powerful big brother.  It is alarming how often, in the face of hardship, people turn to God to fix everything to avoid any personal suffering on their part.  This is understandable for the non-believer, even expected and used by God to bring about an awareness of His desired presence in their lives.  However, for the follower of Jesus, our relationship with Him and the Father, through the Spirit, ought to inform us that Jesus does not promise us that following is easy. Instead He tells us we must ever bear a death sentence in this life (see Matthew 16:24).  
So why is it that most followers prefer an Easy Button that they can safely push from their pews, as opposed to life changing, real relationship?

Only a part of the answer lies in the tragic fact that largely we have ignored Jesus’ relationship with the Father, and how that informs the kind of relationship we are to experience with the Godhead.

The relationship Jesus had with His Father is the relationship we can and are supposed to have. God wants us to know Him and trust Him of fully, that obedience becomes an assumption on our part. It is if we are to say, “of course I will obey you, Jesus; I can’t imagine doing otherwise.”
It is the same response Peter had when Jesus asked, in John 6:66-69, if the disciples are going to abandon him like the rest of the crowds. Peter’s response is “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Part of what Peter means when he says that he and his fellow apprentices “know that you are the Holy One of God” is that he, Peter, has a relationship with the Holy Son of God. Given what Peter has experienced, given the many miles traveling, given the conversations around the camp fire, the laughter over a glass of wine, the sights, the sounds, the miracles, and probably, most of all the calling that Jesus has placed on his life to leave the fish business for the disciple- making journey, Peter can not fathom leaving Jesus just because things have become difficult.

It is directly because of the relationship that Jesus has with the Father that he can perfectly trust that God knows best. In spite of the great personal suffering He is about to endure, obedience to the Father is not a question for Jesus. Jesus trusts His Father enough to be honest with the Father and to tell the Father his preference, that this cup, the cross, might be taken away. Yet Jesus trusts the Father enough to choose the will of the Father over his own.
For us, we can not over look the role that the Holy Spirit plays in teaching and encouraging our relationship with the Father, through the Son. It is the Spirit who is always whispering the truths of Jesus in our hearts and minds. It is the Spirit that calls us to Journey with Jesus. It is the Spirit who reminds us that God is trustworthy and loving.
Thomas A. Small has written a book entitled, “The Forgotten Father”. In it he writes:
“When in the Spirit we dare cry Abba (Father) like Jesus, the one on whom we call is the God of Gethsemane who can ask for anything including ourselves because he gave everything including himself.”

The pinnacle truth is that this trustworthy God loves us so much that He wrought the mantle of heaven for the mire of earth so that we might know the kind of relationship we were designed to have. By looking at the relationship of the Father with the Son, we glimpse the possible realities that exist for us.

What does this mean for us? Some hard questions… Can we embrace the cancer diagnosis? Not because cancer is good but because God is good. Can we live with the pain, not because we deserve it but because Jesus endured pain? Can we hold on to our marriage relationship, not because it is what is expected but because He asks us to trust and obey. Can we let go of the plans we have, trusting that He has a different plan? Will we let go of our desperate grasp of the steering wheel of control and allow Jesus to drive our relationship?. Are we willing to trust God and suffer the hardship in front of us rather than constantly pleading for the hardship to be removed? In short, will we choose God rather than our own will?

In Luke 7:18-23, we are confronted by the story of John the Baptist in prison, asking Jesus for assurance. Erwin McManus, does a wonderful retelling of this in chapter two of his book, “The Barbarian Way.” Essentially, and this is a generous paraphrase, in verse 23, Jesus is telling John, “Yes, I raised Lazarus from the dead but I am not going to come through for you. I am not going to get you out of jail.” Analyze this: Lazarus is a friend, John is a cousin. Lazarus is just a guy, but John, according to Jesus, is so great that no man who has ever lived is greater than John, v. 28. Yet God had different plans for both men. They don’t have to understand the plan. Neither do we. The don’t have to like the plans; and, if it means personal suffering, we most definitely do not like that plan.
Will we continue on the journey to be covered in the dust of our Rabbi, Jesus, even if Jesus doesn’t come through for us the way we would like? Let us look to the relationship of perfect trust and love between Jesus and His Father as formative for our own relationships both divine and human.

Some difficult questions to answer for ourselves, as always, I invite your comments and to enter into the dialogue as we journey with Jesus.

Discipleship is Kingdom Building

There are several common misnomers among those who seek to grow the church. The first is that church growth is all about numbers. The second is is that God wants the church to grow. In regards to the first, do not hear what I am not saying… I am not saying that new people coming into a saving relationship with Jesus is not important. It is, has been and always will be vital.
However, in the great commission Jesus does not tell us to go out and increase our numbers. He tells us to go make disciples. Most church growth interests are about closing the deal, people in the pews, numbers going up and to the right. This is not a bad thing. It’s more like a half completed wall mural. It leaves many wondering what else was supposed to be there. When we ruthlessly focus on discipleship, the numbers work themselves out.

In regards to the second, God is not interested in growing the church [in terms of numbers]. He is however very much interested in building His kingdom. God’s kingdom is where the many care more about the needs of the lost sheep than their personal needs.

To that end I want to share with you what it is that I do.
44DFE443-6722-40C3-9198-CE93565BE3DB
The groups that I lead are filled with courageous men.  They may not feel comfortable with this imposed descriptor, but the bottom line is-they are.  They have done what few others have done, and have embarked on a journey to grow in the likeness of Jesus.  They want to be covered in the Dust of their Rabbi, Jesus.  But this journey is not like any other they have traveled, for they have given themselves to the others who are also following Jesus.  We constantly work at transparency, vulnerability and openness to others. We practice speaking into each other’s lives as we keep their eyes on Jesus.  Just as the Spirit of Truth testifies about Jesus (John 15:26), so these men choose daily to listen to the Spirit’s testimony while striving to follow.

Do they do it perfectly?  Does anyone follow Jesus perfectly?  Obviously no.  We do however, choose to surrender our will for God’s.  Each group of men I challenge to pray.  We utilize lots of spiritual prayer practices.  One prayer that I challenge them to pray each day has this line, “I commit myself to the role you have invited me to play, as you are building the likeness of your Son, Jesus, in me….”

Two important points:
First, it is our choice to ignore the call of our Savior or to commit to it.  When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats in Matthew 4:18-22, they have a choice to make, but the commitment is all or nothing.  They either get out of the boat and follow, or they stay in the fish business.  
But this isn’t the only time they have to decide to be “all in.”  In John 6:66-69, the crowds are leaving Jesus because His teaching is too difficult, too demanding.  Jesus asks the disciples if they are going to leave or stay.  It is Peter who answers that they aren’t going anywhere, they are “all in.” There are many other scriptural references where the disciples need to re-up their commitment to follow.

My point is simply this; committing to the call to follow and to become more like Jesus today than we were yesterday, is a daily choice. 

Second, it is Jesus who calls us to be like Him, and in that calling, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is building His likeness, His Kingdom in us.  This Kingdom is where the power of God is lived out by those who follow the King.  When we choose to forgive, to repent, to show compassion, to speak the truth, to live a servant attitude, we imitate how our Rabbi, Jesus lived and taught. As we make these obedient choices, the Kingdom is more realized in our simple act of obedience and faithfulness.  

One of the guys in our group recently shared that he was in a conversation at work and found himself tempted to lie. He said he was convicted by the Holy Spirit that there was no reason to lie and to be faithful to Jesus. The beauty in this model is that, not only was he striving to listen, willing to obey, but also to share his experience with a group of brothers in the journey. It is the role we have been given, to commit fully, continually.

“It is the role of every Disciple, to commit fully, continually.”

God is building His Kingdom in us, one relationship at a time. I am honored to be in the journey with these men. I know I am closer to Jesus because of the work of the Holy Spirit and them. In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  

Thus the question of discipleship is twofold: Are we fully committed; are we all in? And are we continually renewing our commitment to be like Jesus, by obedience, trust and in community?

Join with me on the journey. There is always room!