“How Do You Know Me?”: Nathanael and real knowledge

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. (John 1:48a)

NathanaelThe most astonished and revealing question of the first chapter of John’s gospel comes here from Nathanael’s lips. His encounter with Jesus reveals Christ’s knowledge of each person: their background, their identity, their desires, their habits and practices.

Philip finds Nathanael near Bethsaida and tells him about his encounter with Jesus, exclaiming, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Nathanael scoffs at this, derisively mocking Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Philip sustains his wonder, inviting Nathanael to “Come and see” (1:46b).

When Nathanael follows Philip to where Jesus is found, something powerful happens. Jesus names Nathanael and describes him with such great depth and accuracy that Nathanael is shocked and overwhelmed. He responds with such a dramatic shift from his earlier comments that we know a deep chord has been struck within his life: “Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel'” (1:49). Jesus promises that the shock Nathanael has experienced in this initial encounter will be surpassed by what he will see in the future.

Nathanael is shocked by Jesus’ knowledge of him into a shocking knowledge of who Jesus is. These two perspectives go together. It is not that our self-knowledge arises merely through pursuit of ourselves – knowing our personality, proclivities, temperament, past, or desires. It is that Jesus the Christ brings us true knowledge of ourselves while concurrently leading us into that which we need more urgently than self-knowledge: knowledge of God in Christ.

May we be like Nathanael today as we allow Jesus to meet with us, speak to us, and reveal both who He is and who we are more clearly.

Walk with Jesus: The Road to Emmaus as a Picture of Whole-Life Discipleship

image 1 - The Road to Emmaus I - Daniel Bonnell.jpg
Daniel BonnellRoad to Emmaus I; 2011.

The story begins like this: Jesus was arrested and His followers fled. He was tried and killed by crucifixion. His body was taken from the Cross by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy, secret follower of Jesus. The disciples scattered at Jesus’ arrest, but returned to one another in a gathering place in Jerusalem. Some women went to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body, but the body wasn’t there. They talked about angelic presences that informed them Jesus had risen from the grave. But it seemed so hard to believe, most of the others remained skeptical. Later the same day on which the women visited the empty tomb, two disciples walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a town west by northwest from Jerusalem. 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

Look again at that phrase: “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.” (Luke 24:15). If we look at this story as an image of discipleship it reminds us that discipleship is primarily walking with and in the way of Jesus.

image 2 - Walking the Road to Emmaus.jpg

Discipleship means to apprentice to someone, or to take someone on as a teacher. Jewish rabbis often invited their disciples – or apprentices – to follow in their steps, or walk in their way. This was more about taking on the approach to life of their teacher or master. 

Because of that, discipleship in the New Testament is often described as walking. We see this in Ephesians, when several times, Paul writes things like “walk worthy of your calling” (Eph 4:1) or “walk in the good works that God commanded ahead of time” (2:10). The Greek word περιπατέω literally relates to walking, but became a metaphor for living life under a certain leader’s way of life and teaching. For Christians, this means experientially walking with the Risen Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit but also walking in the way of life that Jesus modeled and opened to us through His life, death, and resurrection.

As these two disciples walk on their way, Jesus comes to walk with them. The way of discipleship – growing as a follower of Jesus – is essentially learning the way of Jesus. We invite Him to walk with us in our lives; sometimes, even recognizing that He is walking with us when we didn’t realize it. Discipleship means letting the everyday context of our lives become a setting in which we increasingly walk with Him and walk like Him; that is, we live with Jesus and learn His ways.

When we say the word discipleship, it is not primarily about a curriculum or about a book or about certain activities. Rather, we learn in the ordinary context of our daily life to walk with Jesus and in the way of Jesus. When we go to the store, we learn to walk with and in the way Jesus. When we go to our workplace or school, we learn to walk with and in the way Jesus. When we enjoy conversations with others, we learn to walk with and in the way Jesus.  Day by day, we grow as disciples, not just in the religious sphere of our lives, but in the totality of our lives. Jesus is not that interested in one slice of the pie of our lives called “church,” but in revolutionizing all of our lives as we walk with Him and grow in His way of being truly human. This is what discipleship is all about.

Growing Disciples

As we continued our “Roots” series this past weekend at Eastbrook Church we looked at what it means to be a disciple, grow as a disciple, and invite others to discipleship. To do that, I walked through the memorable story of Jesus appearing to two disciples along the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. I discussed how disciples walk with Jesus, hear from Jesus, burn for Jesus, and speak about Jesus.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

Read More »

Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward

 

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new preaching series entitled “Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward.” This series is the second of a three-part series related to our 40th anniversary as a church, following on our series, “Power in Prayer.” This is a series celebrating our legacy as a church, and also recalibrating as we head into the future together. We will look back at what God has done in our midst at Eastbrook, while also looking forward to what God is calling us into as a church.

September 7/8 – “Activated by the Holy Spirit”

September 14/15 – “Truly Community”

September 21/22 – “Growing Disciples”

September 28/29 – “Sacrificial Generosity”

October 4/5 – “Worship in the Beauty of Holiness”

The Weekend Wanderer: 31 August 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

91885“What Majority-World Missions Really Looks Like” – “Beauty Ndoro is part of a growing movement of international missionaries sent out from the Global South, which includes Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. According to Christianity in Its Global Context, 1970–2020, a report by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 66 percent of all Christians will be from the Global South by 2020, up from 43 percent in 1970. This could reach 75 percent by 2050. Christianity is surging in these regions, even as North America and Western Europe see the number of religiously unaffiliated growing at an increasingly rapid pace.”

 

91883“In Christ, Alone: Most Believers Say They Don’t Need Others for Discipleship” – Christianity Today reports on a recent LifeWay Research study on spiritual growth in the life of American Christians. The trend toward individualism continues in most American churches and Christians. However, it is worth paying attention to this: “Hispanic and African American churchgoers may represent an exception to the overall trend, showing even greater progress in discipleship while deepening community ties.”

 

Liz Dong“Confessions of a Chinese Dreamer” – Here is Liz Dong, sharing her story of faith, immigration, and God overcoming the idols of her life. “The summer of 2009 was one of the scariest times of my life. I should have been excited about heading to Northwestern University on a scholarship. Instead, I struggled to sleep. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant with a precarious immigration status, my future rested on my academic performance. I didn’t have safety nets if I fell short.”

 

McCarthy The Road“God, Morality, and Meaning in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – As an undergraduate, I studied English literature at Wheaton College under the tutelage of some amazing professors, like Alan Jacobs, Jill Peláez-Baumgaertner, Leland Ryken, and many more. They taught me many things, including a love for a wide-breadth of literature, appreciation for the craft of writing, and savoring the intersection of faith and the arts. I read widely, yet there are a few books I return to often. One of those, for me, is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road, which I just finished reading again this past week. While this book is intense and sometimes gruesome, the combination of carnage and beauty, death and hope, in the midst of the world that seems alternately godless and God-rich is marvelous. Here is an essay specifically on McCarthy’s themes of God, morality, and meaning in this outstanding novel.

 

college classroom.jpg“The Loneliness Crisis on Campus” – I started my full-time, vocational ministry career working with college students who attended the various campuses in the city of Milwaukee. Now I have my own college student attending a Big10 university. Here is an article from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on the loneliness epidemic gripping students on university campuses, and what it means for ministry to college students today.

 

p07l27rv“What the Voice Inside Your Head Says About You” – From the BBC: “Psychologist Russell Hurlburt at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has spent the last few decades training people to see inside their own minds more clearly in an attempt to learn something about our inner experiences at large. Though many individual studies on inner speech include only a small number of participants, making it hard to know whether their results apply more widely, Hurlburt estimates he’s been able to peek inside the minds of hundreds of people since he began his research. What he’s found suggests that the thoughts running through our heads are a lot more varied than we might suppose.”

 

Cantor-Dark-Side-of-the-American-Dream-683x1024“Paul Cantor and the Dark Side of the American Dream” – Titus Techera reviews Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies by Paul Cantor. “Paul Cantor has a new book on popular culture, completing his long-term project on the American dream. His previous book, The Invisible Hand In Popular Culture, established how real the American dream is and how it connects freedom and success. His new book, Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies, examines the dangers of individualism: apathy and violence; the yearning for success whatever the cost; and the ongoing failure of confidence in America.”

 

“Everything Is Waiting for You” – a poem by David Whyte from River Flow: New and Selected Poems.

 

Music: James MacMillan, “Seven Last Words from the Cross,” performed by the Dmitri Ensemble directed by Graham Ross.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

How Spiritual Growth Happens

river dam open.jpg

This past weekend, in my message “A Crash Course in Christlike Living,” I explored Ephesians 4:17-5:20. One part of my message that I had to drop because of time was a discussion of how spiritual growth toward Christlike living occurs.

Many times, when we want to become more like Christ, we simply read the Bible and then work up our gumption – our own effort – so that we try to live like Jesus. Much of Christian spiritual transformation aims at curbing sin and working hard at doing what Jesus would do. Now, God uses that, but oftentimes that approach to spiritual transformation leads more toward frustration with ourselves than Christlike living.

Christlike living flows from a different sort of place. In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard talks about three necessary elements for spiritual growth to happen. They are: Vision – Intention – Means.

Vision is what we need to have clear understanding, particularly about Christ and His kingdom. A key question about vision is: do we have a vision for the will of God in our lives?

Intention relates to the values we must commit to for growth to happen. A key question about intention is: do we really want to live according to the will of God?

Means are the ways or practices that foster transformation. A key question about means is: what specific means, or practices, do we need to engage with in order for spiritual transformation occur?

Willard’s framework is helpful because it brings clarity on how different elements fit together so that, under God we might grow toward Christlikeness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So as we turn to a section of Ephesians that is all about the practicalities of Christlike living, we need to understand that Paul is putting a vision for Christlike living in front of us, and calling believers toward intentional living toward that, while also suggesting specific means – or practices – that help us move in that direction.

While it is all grace, from start to finish, there is a calling toward not stopping up the flow of God’s grace in our lives, but opening the channels of our lives to His transforming grace. Christlike living flows from Christ-bought salvation.  It is birthed from grace, requires intentional activity, and is fueled by the Holy Spirit.