Are we seeking the glory that comes from God?

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This month I’m doing some reading in the book of John, which is a great book to read because it has so many levels, from clear, basic teachings of the gospel to deep, complex ideas about who Jesus is and what that should mean to us as his disciples. And in the fifth chapter, Jesus is making his first lengthy statement to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. He just healed a man on the Sabbath, and he’s laying out the reasons why he has every right to do so, even thought the Jewish traditions dictated that healing on the Sabbath was forbidden.

There’s something he says at the end of the chapter that stuck out to me. He says:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

We live in a confrontational world where we’re more and more lining up on one side or the other of every issue, and we see the other side as the opposition to be defeated. But even though Jesus is harsh in his statements, he doesn’t see his opposition as the enemy. Jesus’ invitation of blessings was for anyone who was willing to take it – even the people who thought they were doing just fine without him.

He says “you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The implication is that if you’d just get rid of your pride and accept what Jesus is telling you, he’ll give you that life that you’ve been looking for! But you’re not going to find it as long as you’re insisting that your traditions and personal priorities come first.”

Jesus here indicates the core problem with the religious leaders of his day, and it’s the core problem for so many in today’s religious world who are not interested in the pure, complete message of the gospel: How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Finding life in the scriptures

How many today are so concerned about being approved and congratulated by the right people – the “accredited” people, or the people that they respect in their lives like parents or friends or family members – that they aren’t that concerned with actually reading the word of God and understanding it on its own? Jesus tells them “you search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life.”

I’ve heard people interpret this to mean that Jesus is saying “You think you’ll find it there, but you’re wrong.” But actually, he’s telling them “you’re right! Eternal life is right there in the scriptures. The problem is, you’re not listening to it. You’re ignoring it because you’re focused on what’s being taught by prominent teachers and scholars, and you’re not letting the scriptures point you to the true source of life.”

Jesus makes a pretty strong point, but it’s also a fair one: if I’m more concerned with the ideas of scholars, my family, my favorite Bible teacher or prominent religious blogger than I am with reading, studying, and meditating on God’s word, can I truly say I love God? Who am I really following? Is it more important to me to live, to teach, to believe in a way that makes me socially acceptable or in step with what the people around me are doing? Or do I love God’s word enough that I want to understand it for myself, and then conform myself through faith and obedience to the teachings that Jesus says will lead me to eternal life.

We glorify God by listening to Him, not ourselves

Let’s never have an attitude of shutting our ears to what the Bible says, just because it isn’t always what we want to hear, or what we’ve always been taught, or what we know most other people think. The gospel – not my opinion or yours – is the power of God to salvation according to Romans 1:16, and it will continue to work through us if we’ll let it.

Read the Bible. Find someone to help you study it if you need to, but always make them go back and show you that what they believe is the same as what God teaches through His word. Read and study to learn what God wants from me, not to figure out how I can do what I want and still follow God. And if you find something that requires you to change your life or your viewpoint on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, make the change. Don’t worry about what anyone else believes or teaches, just follow what the word says. Because after all, the only glory we should be seeking is the glory that comes from God, and the source to achieve that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And never allow yourself to be satisfied with where you are; as Paul writes in Philippians 3:14, keep pressing on for the mark, and keep training for godliness.

“Failing upward:” How to succeed in service to God

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Have you ever heard the phrase “failing upward?” If you follow sports, you’ve probably seen a lot of it – or at least it feels that way. The coaching ranks are rife with people who failed miserably at their last job, got fired, and were immediately hired by someone. If our team does the hiring, the response we usually give is “What were we thinking? Why would we want that guy??”

Generally speaking, we’re not a culture that appreciates failing up. We look at failure as a dead end – it’s defeat, and it is a reflection on someone’s competence and a good reason not to trust them in similar situations again. They’re going to have to show us something pretty impressive to wash away the taste from that previous disaster. And in our own lives, we tend to live in fear of failure – failing up is what happens to other people, not us! And so we don’t go out on too many limbs, we take on tasks we’re confident we can accomplish, and we set goals that we know we can attain.

Are we afraid of failing?

But the reality is that Bible makes it clear that playing it safe is not an option for a disciple of Christ. The old cliché is that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, but the more Biblical example is probably in Jesus’ parable of the Talents, where a man is given a large sum of money and entrusted with its use for a time. He’s afraid of what his master will do if he fails, and so he hides the money so that he can give it back without losing any. But God didn’t call us out of the world to break even. We are called to be a people for God’s own possession, one created in Christ Jesus for good works.

So how do we view our failures? And how does God view them? Is He really the “harsh taskmaster who reaps where he hasn’t sown?” Does he really see me as just another instrument to do his work, and we’re only a success if we do as much as some other person in the kingdom? I don’t think any of us believe that – so why do we hold ourselves to that standard?

The Bible’s stories of “failing upward”

The reality is that we all fail, whether it’s falling short in our pursuit of godliness, or maybe its the unsuccessful attempts to bring someone to Christ. And the harder we try, the more we fail, it seems! As our goals get bigger, we come up short more often. All of a sudden, “failing upward” is starting to look pretty good!

Fortunately, that’s actually pretty common in the Bible. We see time after time when godly men and women make mistakes – some of them huge in terms of the severity and consequences. If David were running for re-election as King of Israel, with a record of adultery, murder, and cover-up – along with a disastrous policy decision that led to the deaths of 70,000 of his countrymen – how many votes would he get?

God’s view of success is a lot different than ours, because the question in God’s eyes seems not to be whether we’ll fail, but how we respond when we do. When Jesus was in his final hours on earth, he addressed Simon Peter in Luke 22:31-32, this exchange takes place:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus doesn’t even debate whether Peter will succeed, and when Peter tries to correct him, it almost seems as if Jesus expresses frustration and says “not only are you going to fail but you’re going to deny me three times in one night.”

Jesus wasn’t interested in dwelling on Peter’s denial – he was focused on what he needed Peter to do afterward. He needed Peter to understand that the response to failure isn’t to wallow in it, or to feel sorry for yourself, but to get back to the work God has given you. And God had given Peter a vital role in the coming kingdom – a role in which he would succeed not because he was perfect, sinless, skilled or talented, but because God gave him everything he needed in order to succeed, and Peter went out and did the work.

All the tools for success are ready for us

Every time we fail in Christ, we have a chance to grow closer to God. God forgives us of our sins because we have an advocate with the father in Jesus Christ according to 1 John 2:1. God has set the expectation already that he knows we’re not always going to be successful in teaching the gospel — in fact we’ll fail more than we succeed — but as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6, it is God who gives the increase

We’re given the Holy Spirit, which works in us to help us produce fruits of strong character and godliness, if we’re willing to accept it. We’re given the gift of the word of God, powerful as any two-edged sword, and as Paul describes it, the power of God to salvation. The power isn’t in my skill as a teacher or my depth of knowledge and wisdom. It’s in the word of God.

The key to a successful life in Christ is not in the wins, the conversions, the pure and perfect life. The key is in not giving up, picking ourselves up through God’s grace when we fall, and continuing forward with a trust in God and an unwillingness to be stopped in our goal to achieve a crown of life in the kingdom of Heaven. As Paul writes in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

So keep failing upward. You’ll be surprised how much success it brings in your service to God.

Knowing Jesus: The severity of sin

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Last week, we talked about Jesus’ focus on seeking the lost. He never missed an opportunity to teach or influence, and displayed a single-mindedness that sometimes seemed like obsession to his disciples.

There’s an important implication to that: if it’s so important to seek the lost, then being lost must be a truly horrible thing. And for all the discussion of Jesus’ willingness to eat with sinners—to seek out the marginalized—sometimes what is missed is that Jesus lived a life that rejected sin. He did not sin, and he did not tolerate sin.

After healing the lame man in John 5, Jesus found him in the temple and admonished him, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

Even in the situation of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus did not condemn her because he was not a witness and had no standing under the law of Moses to render a judgment. But, he added, “go and sin no more.”

How seriously did Jesus take the idea of sin?

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. — Matthew 5:29-30

Many will argue that Jesus is being figurative, but I believe he meant exactly what he said. Obviously, no one’s hand or eye is the cause of sin; sins come from our heart. If my heart wants to lust, I will have lustful thoughts whether I can see or not. But Jesus is saying that sin is so deadly that it will separate us from God, and that there is absolutely nothing in our life that we shouldn’t be ready to give up in order to avoid it.

He understood the consequences of sin, and he understood that it is important not only to avoid sin, but to help protect your brothers and sisters, and do everything we can not to be a hindrance. Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for the one that becomes a stumbling block and causes another Christian to sin: “it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

What did Jesus go through because of sin?

The idea that Jesus wasn’t concerned about sin, or that accepted it or tolerated it, flies in the face of everything scripture says about him. It becomes even more unbelievable considering what Jesus would have to go through personally in order to redeem us from the consequences of sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” — Galatians 3:13

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. — 1 Peter 3:18

…But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. — Philippians 2:7-8

Jesus knew first-hand the consequences of sin. He loved us enough to take the payment of sin on himself, but he fully understood the destructive nature of sin. He understood God like no one else because he was one with the Father, and he understood what the Law of Moses was intended to teach us through the ceremonial sacrifices, with the image of a priest, whose beautiful white linen robe became drenched in the blood of a dying animal: sin is ugly. It is death. It corrupts and stains what God has intended to be pure and undefiled.

And Jesus came to deliver us from it. So let’s not allow ourselves to call back into that from which we’ve been freed!

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. — 2 Peter 2:20-21


Knowing Jesus: Seeking the lost

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Jesus came to this world in order to accomplish a number of things, and we read about them throughout scripture—some in Jesus’ own words, some revealed to us by the apostles whom Jesus had entrusted with the Gospel message (John 14:26, Matt. 10:27).

But there was one particular mission that Jesus seemed to embrace with every moment of his life, maybe because he knew that those moments were limited. It was simply this:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” — Luke 19:10

He continually sought out (as we will discuss throughout this series) and engaged those people who most needed him. When the disciples found him speaking to a woman at the well in Sychar when he (presumably) should have been focused on how hungry he was, he responded:

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?’ Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. — John 4:34-36

Jesus sought the sinner when others did not

As with everything, Jesus referenced the work given to him by the Father. But with Jesus, it was never strictly about obedience. It was a genuine love and concern for those whom he had no doubt watched for a long time. People who were struggling in their walk with God. People who had given up altogether and were walking away. People who were so removed from a knowledge of God that they wouldn’t know how to return even if they wanted to!

And let’s not forget the people who were no longer welcome to return, at least not in the eyes of many in the religious community.

As Jesus told the religious leaders of the day, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

All of us needed a savior, even the “righteous”

It’s worth noting that while Jesus often referred to those who were healthy, the reality as we learn in scripture is that none of us are truly healthy outside of Christ. There were many men and women in Judea at the time of Christ who were striving faithfully to serve God, and that had a true love for Him. But they still needed a savior, just as we all do today. Isaiah, in predicting the suffering savior, makes it clear that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Some were already at the doorstep, setting their mind on the kingdom and waiting patiently for their deliverer (Luke 2:25, Mark 15:43). And some had to be found and coaxed back to the fold. Jesus knew where his efforts were best spent.

He didn’t ignore or push aside the people who had already come to him, and in fact continually encouraged them, saying “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father speaks as the voice of God to the indignant brother saying “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).

But, he adds, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.”

Taking up the seeker’s mantle

The message to the disciples and to us would seem to be that if our Lord was so consumed with concern over the souls of the lost, then we ought to feel that way, as well.

Paul wrote about this mission’s passing from Jesus to his apostles:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. — 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Have we taken up the mission which has been passed on to us?

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