“Am I A Disciple?”, part 1

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I understand that in this post, I may come across as getting all church-y and critical; however, if you think of it as merely the quibblings of a grumpy old coot and not a breaking out of whips and cords, maybe we can get through this alright.

Some time ago, a fellow blogger asked his readership for future writing topics and among the replies he received was a suggestion that we need to hear more about who we are in Christ. This reader felt that we need reminding that, as children of the king, we are “supernatural royalty.” And that was the catalyst for this post. Why? Because my basic reaction to that sort of statement is usually an ungentlemanly snort of derision.

Tangent Alert

Time to drop another veil or two about your friendly neighborhood curmudgeon: my spiritual journey has taken me all over the spiritual waterfront, so to speak. I was raised in a Catholic family but I became a Christian when I was saved in a small Pentecostal Holiness church in San Diego. Over the years, Wife and I have connected with a small charismatic church, a house church, a medium-sized Christian & Missionary Alliance, and a United Methodist Church.

As well, Wife and I served as associate pastors for two small Church of God (Cleveland, TN) churches in the Tidewater, VA, area. so I think I can be believed when I say that I am passing familiar with the many strands of beliefs and teachings in protestant churches.

To my mind, one of the most malignant teachings that has appeared in recent days to bedevil Christianity is the idea that we are something special because we are “King’s Kids,” that we are above the hoypoloi because God is our Daddy.  Mind you, this originated as one of several streams of the pentecostal Word of Faith (WoF) heresy, but unlike other WoF teachings, “living like a King’s Kid” has jumped the barriers between Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal churches and variants of the idea came to be found in the teachings of many non-Pentecostal pastors and teachers.

Among the non-Pentecostal versions you may come across, one of the biggest is the concept of “Kingdom Living”, that God’s blessing means that we will live well, with material abundance. Why do I say that this “Kingdom Living” teaching (and its parent Word of Faith) is seductive?

Because it appeals to our vanity and our American sense of entitlement. Like many of the heresies of the past, it appeals to our basest desire, to our greed and selfishness, and to our desire to have an easy Christianity that makes no demands on our lives. To me, getting caught up in speculation about our privileges, simply because we are His, is dead wrong.

Don’t Speculate, Examine

There is a more important question that we Christians should be concerned about, rather than “Who am I in Christ?” Instead of trying to tickle our own fancies counting our perks, our time would be better spent in pondering the very serious question, “Am I a disciple of Jesus?”

In 2 Cor. 13:5, Paul tells us to Examine yourselves to see whether you are living the life of trust.” Instead of speculating on our perks, our real need is to examine ourselves to see if we are truly following Jesus, trying to emulate him in word and deed. All too often, our Christianity consists of stargazing or navel-gazing, trying to define our faith by our beliefs. James cut through all that bilge by issuing a challenge:

Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions!”

I can find no place in scripture where we are told to tick off all the Bible Bennies we get from God. Instead, I see Jesus telling one disciple not to be concerned about another disciple, but instead to follow him. (“What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”) I see Paul in a Roman prison telling a church that he has learned the secret of contentment:

In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to have an abundance and to go without. I am able to do all things by the one who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

And have you read the book of James recently? That’s one book that’ll take the starch out of any WoF’er’s sails. After all, when a writer devotes five chapters to calling down hypocrisy and riches, he’s got a serious itch he thinks need scratching.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds – 1:2
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? –  2:5
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. – 3:16
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. – 4:3 (Next verse, he calls them “adulterous people!” for good measure.)

And to me, chapter 5 is the capper, beginning with “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you (5:1).”

This is why you don’t hear a whole lot of WoF teaching originating in the Book of James.

And Peter? After presenting a list of virtues that Christians need to add to their lives (and not one of them a perk for being a King’s Kid), Peter tells his readers

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:10

I hope you see that he isn’t calling for taking stock of our spiritual 401k plans, but instead to examine ourselves in order to confirm our calling and election.

To sum up, we don’t need to worry about what God has in store for us. Instead, the more important question (most important?) in our lives is…

Am I a disciple of Jesus?

More to come….



Are You Where You’re Needed?

As my last post told you, our church is going through a time of grieving and coping, having lost our pastor suddenly. For the past three weeks, Rev. Rob Colwell, the district superintendent of the James River Conference of the VA UMC has been filling the church pulpit and helping the church transition during this interim time, and we have certainly been blessed and helped by his ministry to us.

This past Sunday morning, Rev. Colwell shared a story with us that actually happened to him, and I got his permission to share this story on my blog, so here goes.

One of Rev. Colwell’s ministerial duties was to be an on-call chaplain for a mental institution, and one day, he received a page saying that an inmate wanted to speak to him, personally. Uncomfortable with this aspect of ministry, Colwell went, doing his Christian service as a good Christian minister should.

When he was shown into the ward, a man with kinda long hair, dark eyes and a short beard bounded up to him and greeted him enthusiastically, shaking his hand and saying “Thank you, thank you!”

Rev. Colwell asked the man what his need was, why he wanted needed to talk to him personally. The man replied, “Rev. Colwell, I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job, and to thank you for what you do.”

Surprised by the reply, Colwell asked the guy why he has asked for him specifically. Again, the man spoke up and told him, “We all need some encouragement from time to time, and I wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job. Thank you.”

Trying to maybe clear this up for his own peace of mind, Rev. Colwell asked the man, “Do I know you?”

The man looked back at him and asked, “Don’t you recognize me?”

Rev. Colwell looked deep into the man’s face and began searching his memory to see if there should be a spark of recognition for this man. After all, he had worked in the past in children and youth ministries, and had pastored churches, and so he wondered if this man could have been in a youth group he had led, or maybe was a past parishioner from one of his churches. But nothing came to him; he just couldn’t place him, and so asked…

“I’m sorry. I don’t recognize you. Should I know you?”

“I’m Jesus,” the man replied.

Knocked completely off-stride now, Rev. Colwell didn’t quite know how to respond to the guy, and after a moment or two of thought, he decided to try to approach things diplomatically and so asked him, in a noncommittal sort of way, “Uh, ‘Jesus’ …, why are you in this place?”

The man looked around and said something profoundly on target. Looking at Colwell, he asked, “Where else would I be?”

I’m leading a Lenten study on Adam Hamilton’s The Way: Walking In The Footsteps of Jesus, and this week we are looking at Jesus’ healing ministry in Capernaum, focusing on the healing of the man with an unclean spirit.

That man’s question is still echoing with me: where else would Jesus be, but right there?


Unexpected Goodbyes

I attend a Methodist church in the Tidewater region of Virginia, and this past fall, our pastor announced to the congregation that, as she was approaching the mandatory age of retirement in the UMC, she would be retiring from ministry at the end of June, 2018. (This is the traditional time for assigning ministers to congregations in the UMC.)

Of course, she set about accomplishing final tasks and solidifying initiatives that would be her continuing legacy to our church after her retirement–such things as implementing a new, contemporary worship service, strengthening the local anti-poverty organization that she was instrumental in establishing, etc. And she began the months-long task of saying her good-byes to many in the area and in the congregation.

Our church has an e-newsletter, and of course, as pastor, she has a panel in which she writes a small monthly homily or message for subscribers. The February issue was emailed a couple of weeks ago, and this was her message for this month:

No matter what the circumstances, there comes with the act of farewell a feeling of uneasiness. This sense of loss is connected to change. It can be associated with the unknown— of wondering about what is to come. I find myself in a season of farewell now as I prepare to complete a journey as an active clergy after serving over 30 years. This has been a rewarding, fruitful experience as God’s ambassador.

Coupled with the details of the daily operation of the ministry, I find the need to nurture my spirit; and the best way I know for this to happen is in intentional prayer practices. So in the next 182 days, I will be specifically praying for ways of healthy separation. I am asking God to show me the best way through this process of change, and I trust God. In these days ahead, I invite you to join me in praying our goodbyes!

Yesterday, Thursday, after a satisfying and tiring day of work at the church, our pastor made her way back to the parsonage and sat down to rest in her favorite armchair. In the time before her husband came home, our pastor went to be with our Savior, “claiming the resurrection” as we Methodists are wont to say.

Our pastor wrote of feelings of loss and unease, of concern about change. Such is the nature of our impermanent lives. Kermit the Frog said it best in Muppet Christmas Carol: “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” He’s only right, isn’t he? But between the meetings and the partings are the joys of fellowship. And knowing God assures us that our partings are only temporary, that there will be a grand meeting one day.

So please keep us in mind, our church, as we find ourselves having to say an unexpected good-bye. And pray that we will be comforted in knowing that the good-bye is only temporary.


“This Is My Son; Shema!”


“Shema Yisrael” “Hear O Israel”
~ Deut. 6:4, and the first two words of the greatest commandment, according to Jesus.

These two words are precious to every Jew, everywhere, and should be just as precious to every Christian. Morning and evening, observant Jews recite a prayer/creed/vow called the Shema. Composed of three scripture portions from Deut. and Lev., the Shema is a daily reminder of God and His teaching, and a prayer of commitment to live in obedience to God’s righteous covenant.

We Christians should remember that when Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment”, he answered with this first verse of the Shema. But there is a difference between what a Jew and a Christian understands when they hear “Hear, O Israel”, due to our limited knowledge of Hebrew. (That is, if the Christian even hears the first two words; after all, we tend to edit out things we feel don’t apply to us.)

The English language is a cornucopia, with 400,000-600,00 words. When you look up Hear in a thesaurus, you will discover a multitude of synonyms, most of which deal with aural input into the ear. However, the vocabulary of biblical Hebrew is limited; there are only 8,500 Hebrew words that make up the nearly 500,000 words of the TNK**. Therefore, Hebrew words often have much richer meaning with more implications carried in a word than would be implied in an English word.

Shema is one of these words, and has a wider, deeper meaning when used in the TNK.

Follow Instructions

Years ago, I was in a class were the teacher handed out a page of instructions for the class to follow, as a test. I remember that the first step was “Read the entire set of instructions.” I think the second one was to put your name at the top of the page, and there were different instructions, like numbering your page from 1 to 15, drawing 3 stars on line 9, and several other instructions along that line. The thing was that the last instruction said, “Put your pencil down after doing step 2.”

Most of the students read the first instruction, and then continued on, performing the tasks of each numbered direction as they read further down the list. There were two or three students in the class who put their pencils down and sat in their seats, waiting, while the teacher smiled, and hinted, “Be sure you read the directions closely.” Being one of the eager ones, I kept looking at the kids who were just sitting there, wondering why they weren’t doing the work. It was only when I got to the last line that I understood. This last line read, “Do step #1, then put your pencil down and wait for further instructions.”

They had read the instructions and done what they were supposed to do: read all the instructions, put their names on the paper, and wait. They “listened” and they “obeyed.”

“To Hear Is To Obey”

And that is the fuller meaning of the Hebrew word Shema. Remember that old “to hear is to obey” line from the movies? Yeah, that’s what God, through Moses, is telling the Israelites in Deut. 6.  But the thing is that this same command is given to us today, by our Hebrew Lord. Asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, He cites the Shema. He wasn’t asked, “What’s the greatest commandment up until now?”, or “What’s the greatest commandment for Jews alone?”. 

No, the greatest commandment for all people begins with Shema, “Hear my words and do them!”, the message of the entire Scriptures.

We Christians think that we know better, that we are under a different covenant by which we don’t have to worry about being obedient all the time; after all, “Pobody’s nerfect,” we tell each other (don’t want to come across as too judgy or self-righteous.) We are under grace now and freed from observances of the Law. We are freed to live in Christian liberty, with freedom to fall down and get back up.

But what is it that God told the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration? “This is my beloved son, hear him.” (Lk. 9:35) (Just a reminder–while Luke wrote his gospel in Greek, God was talking to Hebrew-speaking disciples.) God told Peter, James and John to shema to Jesus. And that word carried the connotation of not just listening, but obeying Him.

“Obey Him? CSL, aren’t you pulling more out of the passage than is actually there? After all, Jesus instituted Christianity, which is based on believing Jesus, not obeying some laws, right?”

No, I’m not going beyond the text, and no, Jesus didn’t institute a new religion. He was a teacher of the religion, the Covenant that He grew up in. In fact, Jesus said that He didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it, (establish it, in better translations.) When He told the teachers that not the least yodh or kotz (jot and tittle) would pass from the Law before Heaven or earth be destroyed, He was upholding the permanence of God’s law (Mt. 5:18).

So, Hear Him? How?

By being a true disciple, a follower of Jesus in deed, not just word. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to demonstrate how religious people can be so…, well, religious, but not be disciples:

… this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
(Isa. 29:13)

I’ve written a series of posts asking why Jesus was a rabbi. The answer is simple: Jesus, as a Jew, as a rabbi, was the complete embodiment of God’s revelation for mankind. At the end of the second chapter of her Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg writes:

The mission of a rabbi was to become a living example of what it means to apply God’s Word to one’s life. A disciple apprenticed himself to a rabbi because the rabbi had saturated his life with Scripture and had become a true follower of God. The disciple sought to study the text, not only of Scripture but of the rabbi’s life, for it was there that he would learn how to live out the Torah. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, he wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of God’s law…. That’s what the rabbi-disciple relationship was all about. From ancient times, God had told his people: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

It’s one thing to want to live a Christian life because you have been convinced of the correctness the precepts and principles of Christianity.  It’s a completely different and separate thing to realize that you are morally lacking and need to acquire the character of Jesus. All too often we reduce Christianity to the acceptance of a set of intellectual propositions when, instead, it is the transformation of a life.

So the answer to the question of what it means to hear Jesus is to seek His character in our daily lives. Just as He lived a life of godly holiness, we shema to Jesus by seeking to follow His life in our lives.


** Tanakh is the Jewish/Hebrew term for the portion of the Bible that Christians call the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi. I am going to try to use Tanakh in my articles from now on, because I believe that the term “Old Testament” is a barrier to communication and understanding between Christians and Jews.

“Inherit The Land”?


Please indulge me as I engage in a mini-rant, as I am really, REALLY, cheesed off! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am reading scads of material on the Jewish context of Christianity, and I just read something that has me…, well, angry, I guess.

I do get that there is a silent anti-Semitism inherent in today’s Christianity that is so ingrained as to be unnoticed because it is so pervasive that it has become part of our faith, unintended though it may be. What we don’t understand is that we have precious little light and, because of this, we have even less reason to make inquiry into how much we know just ain’t so! Continue reading

“Salvation Is Of The Jews”


In my Why A Rabbi? post, I traced how God’s revelation of himself and His way came through Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Mankind’s history has been the story of gods and idols that need to be appeased, cajoled, or bribed in order to get favorable results in one’s life. In essence, magic, myth, and mysticism have been the spiritual legacy of humanity from, … oh, say, the time of Noah?

Judaism’s difference, and because it is from the same root, Christianity’s difference, is that there is one God who is supreme and who has been revealing Himself to mankind in order to draw fallen people back into fellowship and holy, right living. The Shema begins with “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). And unlike the gods of the universe, this God, this LORD who is one, is not only powerful, He cares for his creation. Continue reading

Sow Where You’re Planted


This past Sunday, our pastor spoke on the Parable of the Sower, and told us the story of the illustration, above. She and a friend, about 13 years ago, created the banner to go along with this parable when she was serving as a district superintendent for the Virginia Conference of the UMC. They purposely left the face unfinished, using it as the hook for the congregations she was visiting, telling them that they should picture the sower with their face, as it is every Christian’s responsibility to sow the Word of God in their situations.

As she was speaking about the parable, and as I was looking this banner, the old adage about growing where you are planted popped into my head. Only, it didn’t come to me as “Grow where you are planted,” but “Sow where you are planted.” Continue reading

Why A Rabbi?: The Silent Years?


One of the popular topics of speculation in religious circles, both Christian and non-, is “what happened during Jesus’ Silent Years?” Of course, the silent years being the time in Christ’s life between His twelfth birthday and His baptism by John in the Jordan, when He went off into the desert for forty days.

But here’s the deal about those supposed silent years—while the Gospels don’t give us specifics concerning any particular event in the life of Christ prior to ministry, (other than His youthful visit to the Temple), we have enough historical writings to know what His life was like as He grew, and how He was preparing for His public ministry. Continue reading

“Why A Rabbi?”: A Slight Detour

rabbidetourAs I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am examining the Jewish nature of Jesus’ ministry, and what it should mean to those who fashion themselves to be His disciples. I’m going to begin this post by asking a question, and then following it up into a rabbit trail that actually is quite relevant to this series of posts. Here is the question:

Who has NOT heard the statement “Jesus was born to die”?

No one, right? This is a commonly-used statement that people make to say that the purpose of Christ’s birth was to get Him to Calvary, to die as God’s sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world. Continue reading

“Why A Rabbi?”, part 1

rabbi1I realize that several of my recent posts may lead some to think that I’ve become ga-ga over Judaism, that I might be a couple bubbles off-center in my fascination with the historic background for the birth of the Church due to this one book that’s gotten me all hipped on Jesus the Jew. But I have to say that seeing Jesus in a synagogue and not the cathedral has both answered a lot of questions for me and engendered a whole lot more.

But one basic question that I have been coming back to, over and over, is a simple, three-word question in the second chapter of  Sitting At The Feet Of Rabbi Jesus:

“Why a rabbi?” Continue reading