TEACH IT

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronSince 1890, a common teaching method in a surgical residency is to “see one, do one, teach one.” The med student learns the basics by watching an experienced physician do a procedure and then puts his knowledge into practice by doing the procedure himself. He hasn’t mastered the procedure, however, until he’s taught someone else to do it; it is only when we can teach something that we truly understand it.

While Jesus doesn’t call us all to be physicians, he does call us all to be disciples and discipleship follows much the same “see, do, and teach” philosophy of med school. Almost anyone, if they studied hard and observed enough of them, could learn how a coronary heart bypass is done, but that wouldn’t make them cardiovascular surgeons any more than just knowing about Jesus makes someone a disciple of Christ. The first disciples did more than just watch Jesus perform miracles and listen to His parables and, if we’re to be Christ’s disciples, we need to do more than just learn about our Lord.

For the budding heart surgeon, just knowing how a heart bypass is done isn’t enough; he actually has to do one. He actually has to do it by making an incision, opening the chest, touching the heart, and grafting blood vessels from other parts of the body to reroute the blood around the clogged arteries. For Christians, the equivalent of doing one is living like Jesus—applying the Lord’s teachings to our lives and becoming like Him. We put into practice all that we’ve learned about love, forgiveness, redemption and salvation. While few of us would be able to take that second step in medicine and perform bypass surgery, we can take that second step in our faith and put into practice what we’ve been taught by Jesus.

Just seeing and doing, however, aren’t enough if we really want to comprehend something or master a skill. It’s when we try to help someone else understand a concept or technique that we learn in greater depth. In the third step, the training physician teaches someone else how to do the procedure. Because this new student sees things from another viewpoint and asks different questions, the teacher has to think harder and dig deeper to answer and explain his reasoning. It is when the new surgeon can clearly explain and demonstrate which arteries have the best results when grafted and how to remove and reattach them, that he has become a competent surgeon. It’s successfully taking that third step of teaching that eventually turns a med student into a skilled physician.

In Christianity, we often hold back when it comes to that third step: teaching, talking about, and demonstrating how our faith in Jesus works. The command to be disciples was given to us so the gospel message could spread far and wide but, perhaps, in His wisdom, God also knew that it is in sharing our faith that it becomes deeper and stronger. The faith of those early disciples intensified as they spread the gospel message and their knowledge expanded as they taught. When reading Acts and the Epistles, we see how the men who abandoned Jesus in the garden became mature disciples as they shared the gospel, clarified points, answered questions, and explained their belief. Most of us have no hope of ever becoming a surgeon and we’re probably not going to become theologians or even Sunday school teachers. Nevertheless, we have an opportunity to teach about Jesus whenever we open our mouths. Our faith will grow stronger and deeper not just by seeing Jesus in Scripture and doing as would He, but by sharing the gospel message with others.

To teach is to learn twice. [Joseph Joubert]

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. [Ephesians 4:14-15 (NLT)]

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FAKING IT

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra-long tassels. [Matthew 23:2-5 (NLT)]

cliffroseThere is a funny scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally when, in the middle of a delicatessen, Sally proves to Harry that women can successfully fake being in the throes of passion. After a rather loud and vivid demonstration, Sally calmly returns to her meal. After watching Sally’s display of ecstasy, an older woman tells her waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having!” While it may be possible to fool people about a number of things, we can’t fool God. He looks beyond appearances right into our hearts.

Around the 4th century BC, the Jewish rabbis starting taking the commands in Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18, and Exodus 13:9 literally. They wrote God’s command to love Him and keep His commandments, placed the words in small leather containers called tefillin or phylacteries, and strapped them to their left hand and forehead during prayers. There were various rules regarding the length and width of the straps, the color of the boxes, the knots used, the parchment and ink, and even the number of lines for each verse. These were the “extra wide prayer boxes” to which Jesus referred.

The “extra-long” tassels Jesus mentioned were called tzitzit and were worn on the four corners of an outer garment’s hem. In response to the command in Numbers 15:38-40, the original intent was to remind the people to keep the Lord’s commandments and be holy before Him. As happened with the prayer boxes, by Jesus’ time, additional rules had been added regarding the quantity of threads used in each tassel, the amount of white and blue tassels, and the knots used.

Jesus wasn’t criticizing the wearing of tefillin or tzitzit. After all, as Jews, He and the disciples may have worn them. Jesus was criticizing the religious leaders for the burden they placed on the people with so many demanding man-made regulations. Moreover, He was taking to task those men who sought to draw attention to themselves rather than God by enlarging their tefillin and lengthening their tzitzit in a conspicuous show of their piety and religious zeal when they didn’t truly obey God’s commands. Their garish example of faith was as false as Sally’s intense example of ecstasy. While their display may have fooled and impressed the people, it didn’t fool Jesus.

Some Christians wear crosses or t-shirts announcing their faith while others might display bumper stickers or hang crosses in their homes. More important than how we decorate ourselves or our possessions is the way in which we conduct our lives. Without the love of Jesus and the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit, we’re no different than the self-righteous Pharisees; we’re just faking it.

I remember a song from my Sunday school days in which I proclaimed having the “joy, joy, joy,” the “love of Jesus,” and the “peace that passes understanding down in my heart…down in my heart to stay!” It’s that joy, that love of Jesus, and that peace that passes understanding that truly identify us as Christians. When we know, love and worship God, His love instills a joy into our hearts and lives that only He can produce and, unlike passion and piousness, they can’t be faked. It is, however, only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can live the kind of lives and exhibit the sort of behavior that truly will make people say, “I’ll have what they’re having!”

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23a (NLT)]

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WHAT DOES GOD WANT?

Listen to the Lord, you leaders of Sodom. Listen to the law of our God, people of Gomorrah. “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.” [Isaiah 1:10-11 (NLT)]

Although Hosea and Micah told Israel that God rejected their insincere sacrifices, when Isaiah addressed the people of Judah as the wicked Gentile cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the vehemence of God’s words was unmistakable. The prophets’ words did not mean that God was rejecting the sacrificial system but that He found their offerings and sacrifices meaningless because of the people’s depravity, hypocrisy, and superficial worship.

Sacrifices and offerings of incense, grain and animals were an essential part of the Israelites’ rituals at the time. They were made as a way of praising God, showing dedication to Him, in thanksgiving for His many gifts, as a way of asking forgiveness, and as atonement for sins. Most of Leviticus is dedicated to the conduct of sacrifices and Numbers includes additional requirements concerning offerings. Yet, some 600 years after being given those regulations, the prophets told the people that God did not want their sacrifices and burnt offerings because, without faith in and love for Him, their offerings were meaningless.

Since we no longer make burnt sacrifices at our altars, what do those prophets’ words mean to us? To me, it means that it is not enough to simply go to church, sing in the choir, usher, recite Bible verses, teach Sunday school, bring treats, participate in a small group, or be diligent about our financial offerings to the church. God wants more!

As a girl, in confirmation class, I learned that the sacraments were “an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.” The prophets’ words tell us that, no matter what the “outward and visible sign” may be, without an “inner and spiritual grace” it is meaningless. Even being dunked in a baptismal tank or regularly taking Communion are nothing more than empty rituals if our hearts and souls are not committed to God. Just as God wanted changed lives rather than bulls, lambs, and goats from the Israelites, He wants more from us than simply going through the motions of being a Christian.

God doesn’t want us just to know His word; He wants us to live it. He doesn’t want us just to know about Him, He wants us to know Him. He doesn’t want us going through the motions; He wants us! Rather than lip service; He wants our hearts. He must be an essential part of our lives. God wants us to serve Him not just with our bodies, but with our hearts and souls.  The prophets told the Israelites what God wanted; we should listen to them!

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (NLT)]

Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. [Isaiah 1:16-17 (NLT)]

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IMITATING CHRIST

Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. [Romans 13:14 (NLT)]

rue anemoneBecause of the Jewish prohibitions about images, I understand why no pictures of Jesus were drawn by His followers. Nevertheless, any decent author gives a minimal word picture of his characters but the gospels’ writers give us nothing. With Melville’s description of Captain Ahab’s gray hair, scarred face, and whale-bone peg-leg, we know more about the fictional whale hunter’s looks than we do about the real Jesus! The most we know about His exterior is found in Isaiah’s prophecy: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him,” [53:2] which describes most of us! Adjectives are few and far between in Scripture but the Bible isn’t a novel and its words were God-breathed not writer created. If God wanted us to know about Jesus’s appearance, He would have told us. After all, if we knew what Jesus looked like, wouldn’t we focus more on His looks rather than His words? Rather than wanting to emulate His character, we’d probably want to match His features—after all, He was God!

When Paul told the Romans to “put on” or clothe themselves with Christ, he wasn’t speaking of robes, sandals, beard or haircut. He was speaking of spiritual clothing—to take off our “dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.“ [13:12] While we know nothing of Jesus’ physical appearance, the New Testament writers gave us more than enough description of Jesus’ words and behavior to clearly picture the “shining armor of right living.” When we put on Christ, our minds and behavior transform so that our lives imitate His—so that, when people see us, they should see Him.

Below is an excerpt from the Epistle to Diognetus. While not part of the Christian canon, it is a valuable document. Written around 130 AD, the author calls himself Mathetes (meaning “disciple” in Greek) and claims to be a student of the apostles. Yesterday, I wrote of the misconceptions surrounding the early followers of Jesus. In Mathetes’ letter, he defends the doctrines of Christianity and describes Christian behavior to the “most excellent Diognetus.” In one chapter, Mathetes explains that, while Christians follow the ordinary customs of clothing, food and conduct, “they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.” The lifestyle to which Jesus calls us has not changed since Mathetes’ time and yet, when reading his words, I wonder if anyone would describe today’s followers of Christ in the same way.

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.  [Epistle to Diognetus – translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson]

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. [Colossians 3:10 (NLT)]

Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:24 (NLT)]

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ALEXAMENOS

“I’ve said these things to you,” Jesus went on, “to stop you from being tripped up. They will put you out of the synagogues. In fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will suppose that they are in that way offering worship to God. They will do these things because they haven’t known the father, or me. But I have been talking to you about these things so that, when their time comes, you will remember that I told you about them.” [John 16:1-4 (NLT)]

Locarno-Madonna del SassowIn any cathedral or art museum, we’ll find many pictures of Jesus and even rather graphic depictions of Him on the cross. None of them, however, tell us anything about His appearance because they were created long after His time. Still, in a world where we seem to memorialize everything with pictures, you’d think one of Jesus’ followers would have sketched Him while blessing the children, giving the Sermon on the Mount, or feeding the multitude! 1st century rabbis in Judah, however, vehemently objected to the depiction of human figures because the second commandment prohibited making a “graven image.” With its Jewish roots, this prohibition carried into the early church and inhibited early Christian art.

At first, Jesus was represented indirectly by symbols such as the peacock, lamb, dove, and anchor. One of the most common was the ichthus (fish) because the Greek word served as an acronym “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” While making the sign of the cross dated from sometime in the second century, because of its connection with the horrific death of criminals, the cross did not became a symbol of Christianity until the 4th century; crucifixes and other depictions of the crucifixion did not occur until the 6th.

One earlier depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion, however, does exist. Crudely scratched into a stone wall, it was discovered in 1857 during an excavation of the Paedagogiumon (a school for the training of slaves) on Rome’s Palatine Hill. Dating from around 200 AD, it shows a man (or boy) worshiping a figure on a cross; the figure, however, has the head of an ass. The inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships his God.” This derisive graffiti gives us an idea of the way early Christians were ridiculed for worshiping a man who had been executed as a criminal.

Along with claims of onolatry (donkey worship), the early Christians had to deal with several other disparaging, malicious, and false accusations such as incest, cannibalism, and drinking the blood of infants. Roman orator Marcus Cornelius Fronto (c. 100-160) wrote that Christians were “initiated by the slaughter and the blood of an infant” and that Christianity was “foolish” because, “they worship a crucified man, and even the instrument itself of his punishment” and “are said to worship the head of an ass.”

This was the world—a world that misunderstood, slandered, ridiculed, hated and persecuted them—of the early Christians. And yet, they proceeded in faith and spread the gospel. I wonder how the 21st century church would do in similar circumstances! As for Alexamenos, the fellow mocked by that ancient graffiti—more graffiti was found on a wall in an adjacent room. In Latin it said, “Alexamenos is faithful.”  In the face of opposition, we must be the same!

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! [Hebrews 10:32-35 (NLT)]

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THE RICH YOUNG RULER (Part 1)

Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” [Matthew 19:16 (NLT)]

Most of the Jews in Jesus’ day believed that God would never bestow wealth on a sinner so the rich young ruler presumed he’d inherit eternal life. Nevertheless, he asked Jesus what good deed was needed to guarantee it. While we might expect Jesus to give an answer about faith in Him, He tells the man to obey the commandments. When the man wants to know which ones, Jesus lists several of the commandments dealing with man’s relationship with man. The man, unable to recognize his own sinfulness, proudly claims to have obeyed every one since childhood. Assuming Jesus will tell him he’s done all that is necessary, he asks if there is anything else he needs to do. Thinking his prosperity is evidence of God’s favor, he’s stunned when Jesus tells him to sell all he owns, give the money to the poor, and then come follow Him. Unwilling to part with his possessions, the rich young man sadly departs.

Jesus, however, isn’t establishing a universal principle that, to be saved, we must all be penniless. After all, God never told Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, or Solomon to give away their wealth. Martha, Mary and Lazarus appeared to be people of means and Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy, but Jesus never told them to sell their possession and give everything away.

Although the rich man’s wealth obstructed his discipleship, the issue wasn’t his wealth: it was his heart! He loved and trusted in money more than God. Without even realizing it, this man who claimed to obey the commandments had violated the first and greatest one of all: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The man couldn’t put his faith in God and follow Jesus until he stopped having faith in and following his money! We can have only one God and He must take precedence over everything else in our lives!

While it was wealth that deterred the young man from following Jesus, their exchange was about more than wealth and applies to every one of us. Indeed, wealth can be a hindrance to our salvation, but so can a number of other things—things like reputation, appearance, status, security, family, education, profession, comfort, drink or drugs, science, sex, or self. Like the rich young ruler, do we love something more than God? What would He ask you to give away?

You must not have any other god but me. [Exodus 20:3 (NLT)]

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. [Matthew 6:24 (NLT)]

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