Tag Archives: relationships

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.

Do vs. Be – Law and Relationships

There is a long term debate running, going back centuries, between religious people and Jesus followers.

If you have been around the “Christian” organism for any length of time you have been exposed to this virus.

The division has many descriptors: works righteousness, saved by faith, law vs. grace, etc.

As I live and journey in faith with my brothers and sisters, I often refer to this debate as “do vs. be.”

The two camps, that represent the two positions, mostly talk past one another. But here is a brief synopsis.

The “do” side; represents law, doing the law, doing good works, obedience, right beliefs, right thinking, with the emphasis upon ‘me’ doing the law. The big idea is simply this: reduce following Jesus to “do this” and “don’t do that.” The dangerous side is this: legalism, self righteousness, a sense of “God owes me” for all my ‘right behavior’ and defining who is in and who is out. Why do so many people end up in this camp? Because it is easier.

The “be” side; represents relationships, growing in the likeness of Jesus, relating to others through the lens of Jesus’ love for them and us. The big idea is: Relationships define our existence – our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with others. The dangerous side is this: a blind eye to truth in the name of maintaining relationships, co-dependency, self reliance and self righteousness. Why do so few people choose this camp? Because it is harder.

Doing the Law is always easier than being in a relationship.

We humans trend toward sloth. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

From the Garden of Eden on down we have chosen to ‘do’ God rather than be in a relationship with God. One of the blogs that I follow is by a guy named Casey Tygrett. You can find the full post here: Casey Tygrett

In one of his more recent posts he wrote this:

    In a culture that prizes law over wisdom – yes, even the Christian culture – we are constantly looking for what we can and cannot do because it makes things easier. It makes it easier to figure out who is with us and who is against us. It makes it easier to rate our day on a scale of 1 to 5 (well, the anger today was in the 2 range, so I’m going to turn off the divine wrath radar for today) and it makes it easier to read sacred texts that challenge our assumptions because then we can simply find the legality and push ourselves to believe it.

    Then, in a stunning reversal, life happens. The law stops short, here and there, leaving cliff-like gaps between belief and action that take the very breath – the very pneuma out of our lungs.
    Law doesn’t keep our relationships together. Law doesn’t save our marriage. Law doesn’t help us know what to do when we feel different when we feel for God.

Powerful words. Poignant. As I said, most trend toward law, because it is easier. The problem is that we humans also trend toward choosing either or, when what really is needed is both.

Many begin a relationship with Jesus, but then it becomes difficult and challenging. Discipleship of Jesus requires becoming less like us and more like Jesus. Next “most” look around and they see their own foils and fables in most other so called Christians, and they seem to not be working on their relationship. Rather they have chosen the path of law. So the newer believer, assumes the mantle of law, because it is easier, and because it looks like the thing that s/he is supposed to do, because most others are ‘doing’ it that way.

A disciple of Jesus; begins with a relationship with Jesus, and never lets go. The law comes in not to define the boundaries of the sandbox, but as a means of faithfulness and love and devotion in light of our relationship with Jesus. We are transformed into a follower whose inclination toward sin is deterred by the thought, “I love Jesus too much, my relationship with Him is too important to me, to abandon it for a temporary thrill.” It is the relationship with Jesus that informs our view of sin, and as the relationship grows, that sin that was once so attractive, has now begun to tarnish.

There is so much more to understanding discipleship and doing vs. be, I will be exploring more in future posts.

I would love to hear from you, your thoughts on your struggle with doing faith vs. being in a relationship with Jesus.

    Consider the following…
    – Where have I chosen “doing” in my faith rather than “being” in a relationship with Jesus?
    – How do I live out a relationship with Jesus that ‘fulfills’ the law but does not value the laws above relationships?

Discipleship Priorities – Time and Energy

Time Energy manipulationWhen I think of priorities, I think, “keeping the main thing, the main thing.”

Discipleship is all about time and energy.

Time with our Rabbi, Jesus.

Energy expended in the daily journey of following in His foot steps.

Radical obedience to His teaching.

There is no short cut. There is no quick fix. There is no fast tracking a relationship with Jesus.

Discipleship has always been about time and energy.

Today’s world is set up against discipleship. Yet, discipleship is what our world needs above all else.

Dallas Willard; once said, “There is nothing wrong with the church, that discipleship won’t fix.” Take out the word “church” and substitute any noun or pronoun and the truth still remains. There is nothing wrong with the world, with me, with you, with our small group, with this job, with our politics, with our families, that discipleship won’t fix.

“There is nothing wrong with our personal lives that discipleship won’t fix. The only caveat is that it takes time and energy.”

In the same life pumping artery, there is nothing wrong with our personal lives that discipleship won’t fix. The only caveat is that it takes time and energy. A “fix” may be what we desire, it may be what we have been shaped by our world to expect, but discipleship does not work that way.

From the very beginning, we humans, were designed for relationships. God told Adam, it was not good for him to be alone. God was in fellowship with Adam and Eve. A relationship can not be fast tracked.

In one of my other posts, KISS Principle For Discipleship or It’s All About Relationships I outlined the process necessary for building any relationship. Honesty builds trust and trust builds love. While one can look at this and see the truth of the journey, most tend to ignore the Time & Energy factors.

Think about how a relationship is built with a spouse. A person spends time and pours energy into getting to know someone. They open up and risk a small amount of honesty with that person. Then they sit back and observe, what does that person do with my honesty? Do they honor it, protect it, or do they make fun of or criticize me? If the honesty is received, they begin to build trust. With trust comes more honesty. With more honesty comes more trust. This pattern is repeated over time, with above average energy. Questions come to the surface, “Is this the one? Do I love them? Could I love them? Do they love me?

Eventually, a love relationship grows. This relationship journey happens the same way with our Jesus. The infatuation stage in a human relationship tends to mute our awareness to the amount of time and energy that it takes to build the relationship. Conversely, in discipleship, we become painfully aware of the amount of time and energy required to be in a relationship with Jesus. We want to be fully developed spiritually, rock solid in our faith. We detest being prone to painful sin patterns that we have practiced over many years.

I am reminded of the stanza from the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” where it says, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it, seal it for Thou courts above.”

As you journey in discipleship, reminders are needed along the narrow road, of the time and energy that is a prerequisite of every relationship. Nothing can be substituted for time with Jesus. Nothing is more deserving of our energy, than Jesus. In Jesus’ day, discipleship was a full time occupation. Today, we are called to nothing less.