God Writes Us Into His Story

 

April 30, 2019 by Dennis Perkins

man kneeling in front of cross

 

“Don’t let them take the love out!” were the words of a little granddaughter to her grandfather after hearing he was going to have open heart surgery. Even at her age she knew about love and believed the best kind comes from the heart.

Everyday, God writes us into His story. We play in this love story because He is the great writer, director, and producer of this full-time reality show. The greatest story ever told has to be the story of God’s love for man. The story is explained in the Bible in great detail how God sent His only son to save the world that He loves. In John 3:16a (NIV) it is told, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” It is a true love story about a father and his children, a story that begins with the creation of the world and man, a story of the origin of why man loves. It is explained in, 1 John 4:19 (NIV), “We love because He first loved us.

I believe God is always with us through His Holy Spirit, even though we do not always acknowledge Him, He is with us loving us and seeking our love in return. He places special people in our lives who teach us about kindness and love. I can testify that many of these God-messengers have enriched my life.

One of these special people was a man I met when I first attended a new church. On one of my first visits to this church, I was greeted by an older man, a Marine with a flat-top haircut. Rich gave me a warm smile and a firm handshake as he welcomed me. He made a lasting impression on me.

I attended a men’s group meeting in the church and watched as Rich led the group. He often struggled for words, but I could always tell that he was passionate and caring in everything he did. He spoke honestly and sincerely from his heart.

I could feel my life changing as I was growing in my faith. Rich suggested I become involved more in the church and soon a speaking engagement was offered to me. I did not think I would be a very good speaker, but with encouragement from this man, I gave it my best.

The speaking opportunity led me to facilitate a small group of men in a bible study on Monday nights. Rich shared at the first meeting his thoughts on what he needed in a small group. He carefully and honestly explained, “I feel like I have been talked at all of my life, and now I need someone to talk with.” His words helped mold our discussion as the group continued to meet for several years. Thinking back I remember, Rich was always there, listening and encouraging me.

Often, we met for dinner and talked one-on-one sharing our concerns, life problems, and spiritual beliefs. He would encourage me and challenge me to take the needed steps in my life to move along on my spiritual journey. I would offer him similar encouragement and challenges as well. We were iron sharpening Iron (from Proverbs 27:17).

God called Rich home and I knew this special man God had placed in my life, will live forever through his unselfish love and words echoing in my mind. The story of how God taught me brotherly love through Rich is written on my heart. God wrote me into His story.  I miss Rich, my teacher, my brother and my friend.

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Why ‘Being Christian Without the Church’ Fails the Good Friday Test

According to the gospel of John, the cross casts us into community.

Why ‘Being Christian Without the Church’ Fails the Good Friday Test

Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs / Source images: Unsplash

We Americans tend to be a sentimental people. This makes it difficult for us to look directly into the horror, shame, and degradation of a death by crucifixion. When Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, behold thy son” and to John “Behold thy Mother,” we often interpret this saying of our Lord as a sentimental invitation to take good care of your mother. I am a mother, and I definitely want to be taken care of! But this is not what the Fourth Evangelist, John, wants us to understand. In the Fourth Gospel, the mother of our Lord plays a quite different role.

In the side aisle of the chapel where I often worship, there’s a beautiful, unusual altarpiece. It depicts one of John’s memorable stories, the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus says to his mother, “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4, RSV throughout). In English, this sounds very rude. In Greek it is more respectful, but we notice that Jesus does not call her “Mother,” and she responds to him not as his mother but as one of his followers—one who is beginning to have a glimmer of an idea about who he is.

She says to the servant, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). She is learning to be his disciple. That’s what Mary represents in the Gospel of John. She does not appear again in the Fourth Gospel—except in passing and in company with others—until his hour actually does come and he is crucified. From the cross, once again Jesus calls her “woman” rather than “Mother.” Her identity as Jesus’ mother is not important to John.

In John’s gospel, Mary stands out as a particularly faithful disciple, one who follows Jesus through his ministry from the beginning even to its ghastly end at Golgotha. So when he speaks to her and to the beloved disciple (traditionally John himself) from the cross, he is giving two unrelated believers to one another. He gives his mother to him and him to her in a completely new kinship that infinitely transcends blood kinship. Mary, along with others, becomes a beloved member of the new family brought into being through the power of Christ’s death.

When the time of the Lord’s death approaches, Pilate, not knowing what he is doing, orders an inscription to be nailed up on Jesus’ cross: “The King of the Jews.” It is written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek (John 19:20). Hebrew is the language of the Jewish nation, but now—in this hour of crucifixion—the King of the Jews is revealed as the King of the empire, the true Ruler of the world and all the people in it. This is the hour of the remaking of the cosmos and the reconciliation of human relationships.

At the same time that his universal kingship is announced, Jesus turns his failing eyesight down to the people standing on the trash-strewn ground covered with blood and human waste and gives these two disciples to one another. These two who remain at the cross represent to us the beginning of the church in the moment of her Lord’s degradation and suffering unto death.

Taking the Gospel and the Epistles of John together, no writings in the New Testament are more concerned with the church than John. You wouldn’t necessarily notice this, however, if you read the Gospel of John without looking for it. Our typical American individualism tends always to focus on the single, supposedly autonomous person, so we typically read the Bible through that lens.

It’s true that for the first two-thirds of the gospel, John features a striking number of personal, intimate conversations between Jesus and single individuals: the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, the man born blind, Thomas, Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene. These stories stand out because they are beautifully crafted by John, a master dramatist. So, most people tend to read the Fourth Gospel that way. But the overwhelming emphasis in John is not on individuals but on the organic connection that Jesus creates among those who put their trust in him.

This theme reaches its apex in chapters 15 and 16, during the last hours of his life on earth, when he teaches, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). There is no other way to be a disciple of Jesus than to be in communion with other disciples of Jesus.

The night before he died, he washed his disciples’ feet and told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you. … By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

He prayed long and earnestly for them, the “high-priestly” prayer of chapter 17: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as [you and I] are one” (John 17:11). The love that breaks down barriers, the love that “endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7), the love that forgets self and focuses entirely on the well-being of the beloved community—that is the love of the Father and the Son for each other and the love of the Son for us.

A beloved British play called “Journey’s End,” about soldiers in World War I, was recently made into a film. It’s an ensemble play with several actors and no stars. Each actor has his own individuality but each has more or less the same time on stage and each is equally important to the whole. In an interview about the now-past Broadway production of the play, one actor remarked: “[Our director] said again and again that everything you do onstage is for someone else, it’s never about you. That was such a wonderful thing to think of.” Isn’t that remarkable?

In American culture, we are urged on a daily basis to be good to ourselves, develop ourselves, believe in ourselves, and yet this actor understands how wonderful it is to think of participating in something that was never just about you, always for the good of the whole. That’s the church when it’s working the way it’s supposed to. This is why Cyprian of Carthage said 1,800 years ago, “You cannot have God as your Father unless you have the Church as your mother.”

These days, especially, it’s easy to dismiss the church out of hand. It can break your heart with its sin. It’s broken my heart a few times. Every day brings some new revelation about the awful things that have been done by the church. It’s much easier to say, as many do, “I can be a Christian without the church.” But this renounces a most basic and fundamental message of Jesus throughout his ministry, one that—as John dramatizes it—shows forth most of all in his death on the cross: He is giving you to me and me to you.

The disciples of Christ today as 2,000 years ago are drawn together in mutual love of our Lord. For all its sins, though they be many, the church is still the body of Christ himself. And there is no limit to the love of Christ that overcomes the sin within his body.

Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal priest, spent 21 years in parish ministry before becoming a lecturer, writer, and teacher of other preachers. She is the author of The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ(Eerdmans), which won CT’s 2017 Book of the Year Award.

This essay was adapted from Three Hours: Sermons for Good Friday by Fleming Rutledge ©2019. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Reprinted by permission of the publisher; all rights reserved.

 

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Accountability

 

April 19, 2019 by Discerning Dad

Exodus 32:21-24: He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

The idea of accountability is not something most people love to volunteer for. It has been a part of many leadership examples and activities during my career. Some people are naturally accountable to feedback, listen earnestly, and decipher how they can improve based on if the feedback was constructive or not. Other people, however, get very defensive when they receive feedback; they make excuses, and find other people to blame. I can tell you that my favorite people to lead are those who are accountable. They have a positive attitude and own up to their mistakes. It takes overall less work to lead these types of people.

Self-reflection and seeking out input from those your trust is important. John Wesley was so concerned with building a righteous fellowship that he devised a series of questions for his followers to ask each other every week. Some found this rigorous system of inquiry too demanding and left. Today, the very idea of such a procedure would horrify many churchgoers. Yet some wisely follow just such a practice. Chuck Swindoll for example, has seven questions that he and a group of fellow pastors challenge each other with periodically (C. Colson, The Body).

Aaron was a big help to Moses. God allowed Aaron to join Moses after Moses complained about not being a good speaker (Exodus 4:14). Aaron was side by side with Moses through all the miracles and exodus of the Israelites. Aaron was also the first High Priest of Israel. For all of the positives of Aaron, he had two major flaws; he gave in to peer pressure and he was not accountable to his actions as we saw in Exodus 32. Aaron knew the power and miracles of the Most High God. He knew the commandment to have “no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). So why did he give in to the Israelites demand for a golden calf while Moses was away? Aaron was weak; he feared what man thought of him more than God. He gave in and probably prepared his excuse ahead of time for when Moses came back. He had to have known things would not have ended well based on the nature of God, but he still did not have the backbone to make a stand.

It’s really in Aaron’s excuse that stood out to me as how unaccountable he was to the whole situation. He blamed how evil the people are, not how evil HIS actions were. He tried to diminish his hand in the matter when he stated that “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” I mean, I’ve heard some poor excuses from my kids before but this is just laughable right? The better response would have been confession of his sin, asking for forgiveness and pleading with God on behalf of the people. Instead what happened as a result was that about 3,000 people died that day.

Athlete Wes Fessler is quoted as saying, “good men are bound by conscience and liberated by accountability.” Holding yourself responsible for your actions may be difficult but it is freeing, the weight of the guilt and blame can only be pushed aside or pushed to someone else for so long until it comes crashing back at you.

So what does accountability look like when it comes to following God? Here are some examples
– Hearing a message from a Pastor and applying it to your life vs. thinking about someone specific that it BEST applies to… like your spouse sitting next to you.
– When your sin is confronted, exposed, or you confess, be completely open about why it happened to begin with. Do not blame someone else or your circumstances.
– You’ve probably heard the term “accountability partner”; I feel there is a definite benefit to this. Someone who you can be open and honest about, someone who can walk along side you without judgment but will push you past where you want to go versus where you need to go in Christ.
– Seek out feedback; ask someone close to you how they see your walk with God? What are ways they think you can be a better disciple of Jesus?

If we are penitent and contrite in our responses to the feedback we receive or the sin that is revealed in us, we have a real chance at growth in our spiritual walk with the Lord. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). Despite what your fleshly inclination might be, choose repentance, choose humbleness, and you will find the freedom and forgiveness of God.

Discerning Reflection: What is an area of my life that I am not accountable to God about? Why am I hesitant about seeking out feedback from other Christians? Do I have an accountability partner and if so, am I making enough time with them?

Prayer: Lord, help me be accountable to my sin, help expose areas that need to have your light of truth reveal to me. Thank you for your grace and patience with me. May I be a good example to those around me and help them as well on their walk with you, Jesus, Amen.

Tim Ferrara

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