The Intermingling of Witness and Suffering

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16-18)

In Jesus’ words of commission to the Twelve here, we already see the connection between witness and suffering. The mindset of Jesus’ disciples must be shrewd and innocent at the same time. There is an expectation of difficulty, even vicious persecution, that Jesus commends to His disciples, requiring wisdom, innocence, and, as He says in the next few sentences, reliance upon the Holy Spirit. These are bracing words for these first followers of the Messiah. Who would really want to hear them?

But we need to re-hear them today because we have disconnected witness and suffering. In our comfort culture we have sought to avoid trouble as much as possible. We often water down Jesus’ words until the sharpness of the flavor cannot be tasted. Because of this, our witness also has been watered down. We avoid the realities of persecution, even though church history has taught us that persecution is often the soil in which the church most often grows.

Tertullian, one of the greatest teachers of the church, wrote: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” While we should not seek needless suffering, may God help us be ready to suffer for the sake of His name and witness.

A Prayer of Daily Dedication

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. (Philippians 2:14-16a)

Lord, take my life and shape me around Your life.
transform me from the inside out.
Let the fruit of my life—that which is seen
and experienced by others—reflect You.
This day, Lord, I bring You
my words and my attitudes.
Set me free from grumbling and arguing
which is the overflow of a distorted heart
set on the self and selfish will,
unyielding to the unplanned and difficult.
May the attitude of my life reflect surrender
to You and Your ways even as I serve You and Your kingdom.
May You be the center of my words and attitudes
that I may not distract others from You
by my mumbled grumblings of frustration
or my thoughtless arguing for my way.
Lord, have mercy upon me and change me.
Grow me to be like You in every way.

7 Ways to Lose Our Saltiness as Disciples

This past weekend I continued our series on the Sermon on the Mount by exploring our “Real Identity” as the salt of the earth and the light of the world from Matthew 5:13-16. In verse 13, Jesus says, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” In our small group on Sunday afternoon, we discussed what it might mean to lose our saltiness. I’ve continued to think about this over the past few days and decided to compile a list of seven ways we can lose our saltiness as disciples. So, here we go.

Seven ways we can lose our saltiness as disciples:

  1. Stop reading Scripture. Scripture is a vital guide for the Christian life. It is “a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). When we stop reading Scripture, we can easily lose our way, thus faltering in the disciple-life. Without Scripture’s guidance we lose the salty savor of God’s life in and with us.
  2. Stop praying. If Scripture is the guide for our life as disciples, prayer is the lifeblood of our disciple-life. Prayer is our communication with God, but it is also the way in which we abide in Christ. The same way that branches abide in the vine, our discipleship is rooted in the life of God through prayer (John 15:1-17). If we want our lives saturated with the flavor and preservative of God’s life in us, then we must be people of prayer.
  3. Live so close to the world that no one can tell you’re a disciple. We sometimes talk of disciples as in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-15). While we understand that Paul wanted to become all things to all people so that he might bring people to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20-22), this did not mean he hid his distinctiveness as a Christ follower. Salt becomes less salty by being diluted. So, too, if no one can tell we’re disciples of Christ, then we may be on the pathway of losing our saltiness.
  4. Lack integrity and Christlike character. Disciples of Jesus are called to look like Jesus. We are to resist sin and exhibit the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:13-26). Peter said that the godly behavior and character of disciples will lead people to an encounter with God (1 Peter 2:11-12). If our daily lives does not point to Christ, then we may lack saltiness.
  5. Never talk about Jesus. Jesus called His disciples to be witnesses to Him (Acts 1:8). While we want our lives to be a witness to Christ, we also want to give witness to Him with our mouths. If we never say a word about Jesus to anyone else, then we lack what Paul describes as grace-seasoned speech: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
  6. Think only about your own needs. We lose our saltiness when we stop thinking of others’ needs and only think of our own needs. When Jesus was asked how He would summarizeGod’s law, He said it was loving God with all of who we are and loving our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:36-40). Salty disciples are aware of others’ needs, both material and spiritual, and reach out to care for those who are in need, both within the church community and beyond.
  7. Let other interests become more important than God and His kingdom. Just as love for neighbor is part of the summary of God’s law, so, too, is love for God for all of who we are—”all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). If people know more about the hobbies, sports teams, foods, political allegiances, causes, or even family we love, but never know our love for God, then there may be a lack of salt evident in our lives. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 November 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.

Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 1.36.36 PM“The First Christian” – Some Christians, in an effort to avoid what can become an overemphasized Mariology, downplay the role of Mary in our faith. Luke’s telling of the gospel story, however, highlights Mary as an ideal picture of true Christian discipleship that all of us should look to as an example. The preeminent prayer of the life surrendered to God comes from Mary’s lips: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Jennifer Powell McNutt and Amy Beverage Peeler’s article, “The First Christian,” offers a moving exploration of Mary as Christian exemplar.

 

Missional“Futurist Church Series :: Where is ‘Missional’ 10 Years after the ‘Conversation’ Peaked?” – The past ten to twenty years of church ministry conversation seems to have been dominated by the word “missional.” Sometimes, it seems, “missional” has become more of a buzzword than a word of substance, but it is still an important theme in the ministry of the church in a post-Christian era.  This interesting interview brings together five important voices in the early missional movement: Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, David Fitch, Brad Brisco, and Jeff Vanderstelt.

 

advent-playlist_v2-01“An Advent Playlist” – Music is one of the most powerful means for engaging in both cognitive and non-cognitive worship and spiritual formation. At one level, our conscious mind intellectually engages with the words and beauty of music. At another level, our spirit engages non-cognitively with the emotive swells of music and find that songs linger in our memory and heart beyond mere intellectual consideration of it. As we prepare for Advent, I was glad to stumble upon this curated playlist on Spotify for Advent by Victoria Emily Jones from the Art & Theology blog. There was much here that I wasn’t familiar with, which is a gift at this time of year.

 

Fred Rogers“Mr. Rogers was a televangelist to toddlers” – When I graduated from high school, I participated in a recognition banquet where each student had to name one of their heroes. I said “Mr. Rogers,” which was partly a joke but partly truth. I appreciated how Fred Rogers’ faith had shaped his life toward public witness. With all the appreciation of Rogers’ life and influence in recent years, and in the form of two recent movies, Daniel Burke’s article at CNN is a welcome testimony to a Christian life lived as a public witness toward the love and hope found in God.

 

_109823848_gettyimages-1135630791“Egyptian woman ‘wins court battle’ over unequal inheritance laws” – There is a lot of discussion these days about faith and the public square, with most of the examples coming from Western society. We often ask not only “how should Christian faith interact with politics?”, but “can Christian faith really make a difference in the public discourse?” Here is a quite different example from Egypt, where Coptic Christianity collided with Islamic Sharia Law in relation to legality of gender equity for inheritance. “A Coptic Christian woman in Egypt says she has won a legal battle to receive the same inheritance as her brothers. Under the Islamic Sharia inheritance laws the country mainly relies on, female heirs inherit half that of male relatives. Huda Nasrallah, 40, brought the case to test the legality of the statute. The human rights lawyer built her case around Christian doctrine of equal inheritance. Two courts had earlier ruled against her based on Sharia. Sharia has been used in personal status law regardless of an individual’s religion, and this verdict could set a precedent.”

 

Music: Handel’s Messiah” by Jenny & Tyler from Christmas Stories.

[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.]

Witnesses to Hope

Over the past couple of years, I have participated in the Gospel Life blog hosted by the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College.

In my post there today I write about the need for us as Christians to become witnesses to hope. This post came out of a lot of my own conversations and reflections upon the present moment in our world and what it looks like to be a voice and presence of hope in the time in which we live. As hopelessness rises up, we must also rise up with hopefulness.

This past year has brought wave after wave of discouraging news. Many people I encounter feel overwhelmed by increasing political incoherence, racial injustice, and global chaos, not to mention their own personal challenges. Despair rises up around us like hunger in the stomach of a famine-wracked child. If I could pick one word to encapsulate the current tone of our society it would be hopelessness.

As followers of Jesus we are called to be people of hope, and this calling is even more important in light of the entangling hopelessness of our day. In fact, our witness as Christians at this present hour will remain inadequate if we do not recapture the hope inherent in the gospel…

[Continue reading the article here.]