following Jesus

One Throne—One Gospel

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

It's easy to oversimplify and generalize truth. Doing so can make it seem shallow or trivial. But my observation is that teachers who teach well take difficult to understand truth and make it simple. This enables people to gain a good understanding of what's taught and internalize it.

My basic philosophy of learning is that unless a person (myself included!) struggles to think something through, they won't fully understand it or internalize it. Simple questions and challenges to see truth from different perspectives are useful in stirring up productive thought.

I've been writing on a certain track of thought with previous posts (see links below) and want to bring it to a conclusion—there is only one throne and one King of Kings believers need to submit their life to and this is based on the simplicity and depth of the gospel of Jesus.

Believers need to submit their life to only one throne and one King of Kings

A short review

The presentation of gospel truth—the good news of God's redemption for all humanity—is most often given in bits and pieces within a western cultural context. I wrote about this earlier.

A cursory reading of the New Testament (NT) reveals the gospel is presented in five narratives—4 Gospels and a history of the early church (Acts).

The remainder of the NT books explain this gospel narrative and give an understanding of how the truth of the gospel and its theology impact daily life within the church and among people outside the church. 

The larger narrative of God's Story, as it unfolds throughout the Bible, is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption. Even Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is a heavenly narrative of how God's Story will conclude at the end of the Age.

The larger narrative of God's Story is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption

Worldviews and the gospel

Consider again how truth is processed by different people with different world-views. Generally speaking, western thought presents bits and pieces of information strung together until the whole picture is seen.

In MOTROW, information and truth are understood as a whole, while bits and pieces are only seen as part of the whole. When the truth is presented in bits and pieces a disconnect between what is believed and how one lives often happens.

The post-modern mindset is similar to MOTROW when it comes to understanding truth. This mindset may still approach things in a linear fashion, but there's a freedom to associate other truth or information to a belief. This leads to a belief system like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism mentioned in a previous post.

Are you performing well?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is on what is termed a performance-based Christian faith. This is the idea that I need to do something as proof of believing in God or being a Christian. I need to give something to show my commitment to God.

This is often spurred on by well-intentioned calls to the altar—to accept Christ, to recommit your life to Christ, to serve Christ, and so on.

As mentioned in an earlier post, altars are for offering sacrifices and gifts. I see this as an expression of self-focused performance, especially when repeated many times in different services.

Are these responses or calls to some altar of self-sacrifice genuine? Yes, often they are. But the question ought to be, are they necessary?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is termed performance-based Christian faith

Only 2 vows necessary

I realized long ago that there were only two vows a person ever needs to make—one to follow Jesus and the other being joined in marriage. Both are all-inclusive and exclusive. Neither requires any additional commitments because they are all-inclusive commitments.

The call to follow Jesus is simple and requires no further clarification—Matt 16:24; Luke 14:26-27, 33. God's view of marriage, repeated four separate times in the Bible, is just as simple—Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31.

Some may argue, "But there's more to it than that!" But I ask, does God see it that way?

Reading through the book of Hebrews, I'm reminded of the great access provided for believers in the New Covenant established by God's grace—direct access to God's presence.

This access requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)

There are no minimum requirements for entering and remaining in the Kingdom of God. The only thing God asks is that we come to Him—Matt 11:28-30.

Access to God requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—His throne of grace

What compels you to seek God?

So, back to the question—altar or throne? How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself? Or, are you coming to Him in all circumstances, good or bad?

When my children were young and I was a young pastor, I had an open door policy for my children and wife when I studied for messages. I can become so absorbed in studying that I block everything and everyone out.

My wife would remind me of my need to make myself accessible to my children and her., so I didn't elevate my work or my interests over them.

This is how I see a believer's access to God's presence. I can come at any time, in any condition, in any situation and His door is open. I don't need to offer anything or ask special permission.

The Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our promised intercessors (Rom 8:26-27, 34) ready at all times to hear us and be our advocates. Nothing and no one stands between believers and God.

How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself?

Guilt or grace?

Even as a young believer, I felt manipulated to respond to altar calls. I don't like being manipulated with emotion, nor do I want to just do something because it's expected or because I feel guilty about something. 

I'm not against altar calls per se, just the manipulative way they can be used and the assumptions made based on responses to these calls. I'm especially concerned about the self-effort I see people exerting to get into God's good graces. It's just not necessary.

God didn't ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac more than once. God accepted it and declared Abraham as righteous by faith (Gen 15:6; 22:1-18). Jesus only died once to justify those who trust in Him (Heb 9:12-14), this is made clear in several places in Hebrews.

Is there any need for doing something additional? If you think so, you don't understand God's grace. God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him.

God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him

Confidence in God and His grace

I laid my life at God's altar and I made a vow to my wife over 45 years ago. I don't need to make any more vows or make any sacrifices to gain the Lord's acceptance.

I approach God's throne with confidence when I am in need, though I still fall far short of perfection. My perfection—my sense of completeness—is only found in my Lord and Savior Jesus. I had nothing to offer long ago and still don't, but He has all I am.

What about you?

Are you going to God's altar and waiting for Him to accept you? Or, are you going boldly before His throne of grace at any time whatever your need? (Heb 4:14-16)

Jesus calls each of us to deny our self and take up the Cross, and then follow Him in faith. He doesn't ask us to make more vows at an altar of self-sacrifice. He invites us to come to Him because of His grace, and as the traditional hymn declares—Just as I am.

God doesn't ask us to come to an altar of self-sacrifice but invites us to come to Him because of His grace

Links of previous related posts—

Many Altars but One Gospel

Altar or Throne?

Did God Really Say That?

Photo by  Eunice Lituañas  on  Unsplash

Opinions abound... everyone has one! Here's one I liked by a former American president, "I have opinions of my own—strong opinions—but I don't always agree with them."

This brings up a couple good questions. Can all opinions be right? Can any of them be right?

"If you convinced me—And I convinced you, Would there not still be—Two points of view?" [Richard Amour]

Many people claim God told them certain things. But is this their opinion, or was it really God? How can we know one way or the other?

Figure it out

A multitude of authors and speakers claim they can teach people to know the will of God. But I wonder, is it really that hard to know?

Preschool-age children already know how to figure out their parents. As they get older, they know who to go to for a favorable response to what they want.

We learn how to discern this at an early age, and likewise, learn how to use this discernment to manipulate others.

Is it really that hard to know the will of God?

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will. It's really not that difficult. The hard part is giving up on trying to manipulate Him to agree with what we want (our self-will).

A tell-tale sign of not hearing God's voice is when we think we have it all figured out. Then we attempt to coerce others to believe it.

When we deceive ourselves that something is true because we are banking on it, we then work on others so they will accept it. This is either an effort to deceive or leads to deception.

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will

The value of listening

Don't get me wrong. I'm as opinionated as the next person. Sometimes, more than most. When I begin to hear my own voice sound shrill and uncompromising, I know it's time to listen, not talk.

You've heard the old expression, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." [Epictetus]

When my voice sounds shrill and uncompromising—I need to listen not talk

Over the centuries, or should I say, millennia, people have taken the truth, twisted it to their own design, and presented it as God's truth. This happens in all areas of philosophy and religion, among individuals and within churches.

Cultural swings can influence this. It could be the current flow of a culture or opposition to it. Think hundreds of years, not decades for perspective.

The earliest example of misrepresenting what God says is found in the encounter of the crafty serpent with the first woman and man (Gen 3:1-5)

People have long taken the truth, twisted it, and presented it as God's truth

Unadulterated truth

Jesus dealt with this in His time. Experts in the Law had tweaked and twisted God's truth into their own version of it. The foremost ones were called Pharisees.

It's no different today. We have our own Pharisees. Of course, we think it's the other guys, not ourselves. We brand them with libelous labels and separate ourselves as more righteous.

But when we do this, we hide behind the shadow of Jesus—our version of Him—as if He's on our side. When we do this are we any different than the Pharisees of the Lord's time?

Pharisees exist today but we think it's the other guys, not us

How Jesus made the truth clear

How did Jesus deal with this twisting and tweaking of truth? He often restated truth in its original form, its intended meaning.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never break your oath, but give to the Lord what you swore in an oath to give him.’

But I tell you don’t swear an oath at all. Don’t swear an oath by heaven, which is God’s throne, or by the earth, which is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, which is the city of the great King. And don’t swear an oath by your head. After all, you cannot make one hair black or white.

Simply say yes or no. Anything more than that comes from the evil one." (Matt 5:33-37 GW)

So, it's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well. Not our view of the truth or the dogmatic views of spiritual leaders.

It's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well

How to know the truth yourself?

Last week, I shared of the value and importance of reading and listening to God's Word. But the first priority is knowing God. Knowing Him, in a personal way.

The first priority is knowing God—knowing Him in a personal way

Reflecting Jesus

How? A simple path is looking at all the invitations Jesus gives in the gospels. Hear them. Take them to heart. Let them become life in you. 

Here are two important invitiations—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest... learn from me, because I am gentle and humble." (Matt 11:28-29 GW)

“Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses every day, and follow me." (Luke 9:23 GW)

But how will you know His will? How will you know if you're following Him in the right way?

Simple. When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path.

When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path

5 Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith

In a previous post, I pointed out that a general understanding of Christianity often revolves around moral goodness. Moral goodness in and of itself is certainly not bad, but it is not the basis of genuine Christian faith.

And yet, true followers of Christ ought to be good examples of moral goodness. But what is this moral goodness based on? It is not relative to any culture, nor is it gained by upholding certain laws. It is not even based on what a person believes.

But what a person believes and why they believe it is important.

5 Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith

There are at least five basic, foundational truths essential to genuine Christianity. This is from an evangelical perspective. The work of Christ's redemption is received only by faith because of God's kindness and favor referred to as grace.

  1. Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith
  2. Jesus is the core of the Essential Gospel and the core of our Christian faith
  3. Jesus personally calls us to follow Him
  4. Jesus gave one all-encompassing command—to love one another as He loved us
  5. Jesus gave one primary mission to His followers called the Great Commission

Do you see the constant in all five of these foundational truths? It's Jesus!

Instead of rattling off Scripture references to base these on, I'll give a few references followed by some questions. Why?

Western Christian believers have a tendency to take in biblical knowledge without fully understanding it. This may enable someone to spout Bible references and beliefs, but it doesn't necessarily lead to internalizing truth.

When the truth is internalized it becomes embedded in us and readily available to share with others. But for a truth to be internalized a person needs to process the truth through their own thinking. This often involves some form of struggle to gain understanding.

Jesus the Cornerstone

There are several places where Jesus is referred to as the Cornerstone. One of those is found in Ephesians 2:20 another is in 1 Peter 2:4-8.

Why would this be an important and foundational truth of the Christian faith? 

Has this truth been foundational for you?

The Essential Gospel

The Essential Gospel—He Came, He Died, He Rose—is laid out in my book, The Mystery of The Gospel: Unraveling God's Story.

The key is to understand who "He"—Jesus—is. When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought "the Son of Man" is, Peter made an important and accurate declaration in Matt 16:16.

What are the two things Peter declares about Jesus?

Do you understand the significance of these two truths?

Jesus' call to follow

This basic invitation to follow Jesus is found in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) and is preceded by the revelation of who Jesus is and His relating the Father's plan for man's redemption.

What are two things Jesus says need to happen if we want to follow Him?  

What do these expressions mean to you?

The supreme command

Jesus gives one general command that He calls "new" in John 13:34-35, and it is by this we are to be known as His followers. 

What is different about this new command of Jesus and the command to love our neighbor as we would our selves (Mark 12:29-31)?

Our Mission

This final instruction of Jesus to His followers is found in all four of the gospels and the beginning of Acts. It is not optional. It is our primary mission and the heart of God for the world.

The first place we see the Great Commission is in Matthew 28:19-20. The other ones? Here's a hint—look at the end of the other three gospels and the beginning of the book of Acts.

Can you find each occurrence of it? How is this foundational truth at work in your life?

If you still aren't sure where these expressions of the Great Commission are, then check this post out—What Do You Not Understand About "Go"?

What's your view on these 5 foundational truths?

This post is not intended to be a complete guide to the Christian faith, that would require much more attention.

If you're looking for that, find a good book on biblical theology, such as—What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

Because I'm a proponent of intentional, relational discipleship and biblical theology, I see the Christian faith as a way of life, not a set of beliefs.

The Bible is our source for truth, but remember what Jesus says—

You carefully study the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. They do in fact tell about me... (John 5:39 NCV)

What are your thoughts on these five foundational truths?

I'd like to hear them and also your responses to the other questions in this post.

Please feel free to share it with others. Thanks for reading!

Back on Track Again—Restoration and Correction

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unsplash_DmitriiVaccinium.jpg

Every life has its ups and downs, twists and turns, and unexpected changes. How we handle these situations has a lot to do with our character and personality, our upbringing and background, and even our temperament.

One of the wisest men in the world, King Solomon of ancient Israel, concluded—

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl 1:2 NIV)

But he realized—

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens... (Eccl 3:1 NIV)

It's impossible to predict with accuracy what the outcome will be in the events of our life. No one can see that far down the line except God and He keeps us in suspense for our own good.

None of us know for certain how we'll react given a set of circumstances. This is one reason we need redemption. A reconciliation that brings restoration. But God's restoration often includes correction to get us back on track with Him.

An accurate prediction

A recurring problem among the apostles—the 12 specially chosen disciples—was an argument over who was the greatest. This is a universal human argument—who's king of the hill?

But Peter was the point man of the twelve, so Jesus expected more of him.

Jesus knew Judas, one of the twelve, would betray Him and warned all His followers about this. He told Peter that the devil would test him in a great way but he was to "strengthen your brothers" after this took place (Luke 22:31-32).

As typical, Peter protested any thought of weakness in himself and boasted he would never deny the Lord even if all the rest deserted Jesus.

“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33 NIV)

That's you and me. We tend to think of ourselves as the exception to the rule that puts us in the best light.

Then Jesus told Peter something he couldn't imagine happening—

“I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (NIV)

False confidence

Peter's claim turned out to be an empty boast based on false confidence in himself.

As the story unfolds, Jesus is arrested by a mob carrying torches and the once bold disciples ran for their lives. They abandon the one whom they claimed they would follow anywhere no matter the cost.

Peter tries to stay close to where Jesus is held by the Jewish leaders' council but hangs back in an attempt at stealth. His identity is uncovered, first by a servant girl, then by two others who recognize him and his Galilean accent (Luke 22:54-59).

Each time, Peter denies he knows the Lord with increasingly strong words. After the third time, the rooster crows to signal the coming dawn. But for Peter, it's a dark night of the soul.

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61-62 NIV)

The Lord's prediction of Peter's three denials pierces his heart with a loving look from Jesus. How far Peter had fallen in his own estimation of himself!

Peter couldn't meet his own expectations, let alone fulfill the Lord's calling on His life.

But all was not lost. And yet, Peter needed to realize his inability to follow the Lord or fulfill His call on Peter's life by his own effort and strength.

Restoration

As mentioned last week, Jesus restored Peter after his three denials by one question repeated three times. The whole story is found in John 21:1-22 and is worth the read.

Here's a condensed version for the sake of a shorter post.

Reversion

Following the Lord's death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His followers to reaffirm all He taught. He was teaching them to walk by faith, guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2-3).

But things were different now. Jesus was no longer with them in person or so they thought. So, Peter reverted to his livelihood before Jesus called him. He went fishing.

After fishing all night and catching nothing, Jesus appears on the lake shore but they don't realize it's Him. He calls out to them—

“Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” They answered him, “No, we haven’t.” He told them, “Throw the net out on the right side of the boat, and you’ll catch some.”
So they threw the net out and were unable to pull it in because so many fish were in it. (John 21:5-6 GW)

Just as when Jesus called Peter to follow Him (Luke 5:1-11), a miraculous catch of fish revealed who stood on the shore. Peter responds in his usual impulsive way. He jumps in the water and swims to shore.

Breakfast on the beach

Jesus waits on the shore with fish grilling over burning coals and a loaf of bread. He invites them to eat breakfast and encourages them to add their fish to the grill.

None of the disciples ask Jesus if it's Him. They knew it it was He in their hearts.

Just as when Jesus fed 5000 people, Jesus gave them fish and bread to eat. This was the third time Jesus appeared to them following His resurrection.

All of this sets the table for Jesus to restore Peter but in an expected way.

Do you love Me?

Jesus asks Peter the same question three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the other disciples do?” (John 21:15-17 GW)

Each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord but he's grieved that the Lord asks Him three times. Each time the Lord gives Peter a strong exhortation—

"Feed my lambs... Take care of my sheep... Feed my sheep!"

Jesus was restoring Peter after the three denials but He also reaffirmed His call on Peter's life.

This happens a lot. God restores and corrects us at the same time.

We want the restoration but the correction hurts our fragile ego. This is proven out in Peter's case as the story continues.

Follow Me!

Once the three-question restoration and correction process is finished, Jesus tells Peter that his life is not going to end as he chooses. But the Lord's admonition is the same as at the beginning—"Follow Me!"

Again, Peter reacts! He looks to his fellow disciple John and wants to know what will happen with his life. But again, Jesus corrects Him. Make that rebukes him—"...what is that to you? You must follow me.”

This last part of the story illustrates our selfish human nature. We want to know how God deals with everyone else when it's different than what the Lord expects of us.

Why does he or she get to do such and such or not have to do the same as me?

This is where following Jesus requires us to commit our lives to Him and Him alone. Following Jesus is a personal commitment to Him, not a set of beliefs to hold or rules for life.

God's restoration connected to correction

In his well-known Psalm 23, David says of the Lord, "He restores my soul" (Ps 23:3). King David, a man after God's own heart, understood the need for correction and restoration.

David experienced God's correction and restoration after his adulterous encounter with Bathsheba. After, he had Bathsheba's husband Uriah murdered. God's correction was connected to God's restoration of David.

God's restoration isn't just a removal of guilt. When Jesus restores us, He enables us to move forward in life by faith to follow Him. He sets things in order in our life as we follow Him by faith.

Jesus is the One who restores us but we need to trust Him to do this and submit to His leadership in our lives.

This includes His correction to get us back on track with His call on our life.

How are things between you and Jesus?

Are you on track with His call on your life to follow Him?


Here's a link to a message I preached related to this post— Back on Track

Who Is Jesus...Really?

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Surveys. Opinion polls. Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite to know what other people think about... fill in the bank.

For all the mining of opinions and the flood of information available, what do we really know? Are we truly the most informed generation in history?

We know a lot of minutiae about a lot of things. This helps us in trivia games, but doesn't answer life's big questions.

A valuable question

At the beginning of this story (Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus asks His disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He wanted to know what the disciples heard among the people.

Yet, He was far more concerned with what the disciples thought, as seen by His second question to them.

In sharing the gospel with others, we need to be mindful of what people are thinking and saying about who Jesus is. It is valid to ask people what their perception of Jesus is before launching into a presentation of the gospel.

Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should be a factor in how the gospel is told or related.

The wrong approach

When zealous believers approached me during my spiritual search, I would hear, “you can become a Christian and still have fun!” One time I was approached while in an altered state of mind and told I could still “own a sports car and become a Christian.”

Having a sports car was the farthest thing from my mind at the time! It did not attract me to Christianity.

Although well-intentioned, this approach to share the gospel was off target. My biggest need was getting my eyes off what I wanted, or what I thought could bring fulfillment in my life.

A frame of reference

Genuine questions can reveal where people stand on spiritual matters, and their opinion about Jesus.

Asking about a person’s life can open them up to hear God’s Story. If a person’s life story is full of difficulties, or reveals a searching for spiritual truth and significance in life, it opens an opportunity for connecting them with God.

Presently in America, more and more people, especially young adults, have a limited understanding of Jesus. They may know more about Buddha or Mohammed than Jesus. Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth.

Spiritual truth is conceptual, abstract, and intangible, yet we live in a material world. If we don’t perceive what their perception is about Jesus, the Bible, or other spiritual truth, we give them information they can’t process.

We need to know

In contrast, we may pay more attention to what others have to say than we should. Many people are intimidated to share their faith story, fearing rejection. Others are unsure of what to say or how to say it.

Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed—an understanding rooted in a genuine personal relationship with God.

When the gospel is shared with sincerity of heart and in simple words, it is more apt to be heard.

Who do You say Jesus is?

Then Jesus asks His second far more pointed and important question, “Who do you say that I am?”

It was a question of progress for the apostles. Were they grappling with the same question, or were they sure in their hearts? Ultimately, everyone must answer this question. One day, all people will answer this question in God’s presence.

What is your belief?

Other opinions aside, what is your belief? What others say may be of interest, but what is your own belief? How would you answer the question of who Jesus is?

If you are a Christian believer—that is, you have a personal relationship with the Lord, and you’ve experienced a spiritual rebirth—you should be able to answer this question. But, how would you answer? How would you describe who Jesus is to someone else?

Truth is revealed by God

Spiritual truth can only be conveyed if a person understands it in his or her own spirit. As the apostle Paul says, “ . . . not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:13).

It is not knowledge of words, written or spoken. God through the Holy Spirit must reveal spiritual truth. It is expressed in words, but understanding and acceptance is God’s work in a person’s heart and mind.

What are your thoughts about Jesus? Do you know who He is?

Do you know Him personally and tell others about your relationship with Him?


This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's another related post— The Core of the Gospel

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book— The Mystery of the Gospel