As a person ages, it becomes important to make the effort to learn about all the new discoveries, tools, and culture in the world around. We all know of individuals who choose not to learn about computers, social networking, and/or other new technologies. Often, their excuse is that they are too old to learn. This excuse is so far from the truth. No matter what one’s age may be, there is always the capacity to learn. Instead, the person has consciously made the choice not to learn or engage. This choice limits their interaction with the world and people around them. If they had never been introduced to these new ways, then the choice was never afforded them but once they have been introduced, the choice is fully their own.
In the letter to the Roman believers, we read of a similar situation. The writer is speaking of being justified through belief in Christ’s salvific actions. The promise put forward is all have the potential to be saved from our own sinful ways if one will call on the Lord for salvation. Then the writer puts forth a challenge. Through a series of questions, an importance is placed upon the need for all to have the opportunity to hear of Christ’s saving action so they may believe in it. The challenge is for believers to tell this good news to others.
As believers in Christ today, we are given the same challenge which the Roman believers received in the first century. There are people who have heard nothing about Jesus’s saving actions. There are people who have been given misinformation which causes them to have incorrect perceptions. We are the ones who have been sent by Jesus (see Matthew 28:18-20). Our feet are those beautiful feet of which Scripture speaks. Each, in our own way, share how Jesus’s actions have had an impact. Then we inform those with whom we share the news that Jesus’s actions were for them as well. Whether we use words, life examples, stories, our actions, or a combination of any and all these, we share.
Growing up, my father would take me fishing occasionally. I was never much of a fisherman because I did not like to put the worm on the hook, nor did I want to take the fish off the hook when I was fortunate enough to catch one. Where we would go fishing, the most frequently caught type of fish was a bullhead. Bullheads have whisker-like appendages that could “sting” you if you touched them. Due to this, I either wore gloves or made my dad take the fish off the hook. He would get tired of taking the fish off the hook so we would go home. As an adult, I can count the number of times I have gone fishing on one hand. While I enjoy the calming effect of being near the water, fishing is not how I want to spend the time by the water.
In the passage from Mark, we see and hear about fishing. We witness Jesus “fishing” for disciples and then we hear from Jesus that his disciples will be fishing for people. The four disciples mentioned here, who later would be part of the inner circle and became apostles, were fishermen by trade. Fishing was one of the prominent sources of income and sustenance for many in the area. Net fishing was the way in which these four men practiced their trade. They were very aware of the best techniques to yield the highest number of fish in their nets. Jesus will teach them new techniques to bring people into the fellowship.
As disciples today, we are to also bring others into the fellowship. This is not to be done through manipulative or deceptive methods. Instead, it is to be done by following Jesus’s example. Jesus taught Simon, Andrew, James, John and the others by modeling for them the correct methods. Jesus began with love. First, and foremost, Jesus loved the ones he would invite. Then Jesus sought to understand the most pressing need(s) of the person. Jesus’s next step was doing all things possible to meet the need(s). Through this method, Jesus communicated that the person was valued and this was what led people to accept the invitation. Jesus did not force, attempt to coerce, or talk anyone into being a part of the fellowship. Instead, Jesus loved the person and demonstrated that through actions of compassion.
Let us “fish” for people using the techniques Jesus has taught. Even if we do not witness someone become a part of the fellowship, we will have extended the love of the Lord to one of God’s children. Cast the net wide because all are welcome.
Jesus’s words here are difficult to hear. However, they make sense if we are honest. While it may be challenging to acknowledge Jesus and the relationship we have with him outside of our church buildings, it is only a challenge if we are ashamed or afraid. Being respectful of others does not have to mean denying our relationship with the Lord.
These verses reminded me of a song from my post. Listen to the words of this song, Consider how you acknowledge Jesus. Are there times and ways in which you act ashamed?
When a teenager is in high school, often they will experience taking some form of an aptitude test at least once. The purpose behind such a test is to assist the teenager in identifying what type of employment may best suit their personality, skills, and interests. With this information, the student can be guided in what subjects they should take while in high school. This also provides an opportunity for looking toward the future in regard to what post-secondary education or training would be helpful for the student to move toward them toward employment goals. The generally accepted view is that after identifying the personality, skills and interests, preparing for a future where these are easily applied is the best route. What this approach fails to take into account is the changes which can, and do, occur in those three areas as a person matures. Also, the changes in employment types and opportunities as society advances does not factor into this approach. However, a short-term plan can be established for the time being as long as taking other aptitude tests occurs frequently throughout the person’s life.
Paul speaks about a person’s aptitude in his letter to the Corinthians. He uses the words “spiritual gifts” instead of aptitude. Paul tells the people that everyone receives personalities, skills, and interests from the Spirit. These are intended to be used by the individual to serve others. Each person’s gifts are different from another but are expected to work in harmony with others to achieve the benefit of everyone.
You have been given your own unique personality, set of skills, and interests by the Spirit. Identifying those unique aspects is important so that you are able to exercise them for the good of all. This identification usually requires the assistance of others which is one of the purposes of active engagement in the fellowship of the Church. It is also very important to remember that discerning these items is not a one-time event but should be done frequently since changes occur. Each time after discernment, identifying how to apply these gifts for the good of others is the next step.
When did you last take inventory of what you received from the Spirit? Is it time to repeat this discernment? How are you using your gifts?
In a few months we will be entering the Christmas season. The Christmas season means a return of wonderful movies and animated shows. Two of my favorite, must-see movies are A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge learns the importance of caring for others and taking care of the needs of others as one of his lessons. George Bailey discovers in It’s a Wonderful Life how much his decisions and actions have had a positive impact as he met the needs of others. Both movies provide an important message regarding how we are to demonstrate love and compassion for one another.
The reading for today comes in the midst of Jesus telling a parable about caring for others. Jesus presents a scene which can occur upon the return of the Son of Man. There is a division which happens. This division is between those who cared for others in their lives and those who chose not to reach out in compassion and love. The point made in this story is that even if we are not aware, the choices we make in regards to the needs of others have an eternal impact. Since God is love, and Jesus is the embodiment and example of this love, those who desire to follow Jesus must demonstrate this love in their lives. Jesus indicates here that failure to do so means a person cannot truly be in Christ.
The truth of Jesus’s parable was demonstrated in the Christmas movies mentioned at the start. Our choices about how we respond to the needs of others around us have impacts of which we may never be aware. These impacts change the lives of those in need but also change our very own life. The lasting nature of these choices make their importance even greater. Both Jesus and Paul tell us that only if love resides in and through us can we truly know the fullness of our God.
There are needs constantly around us. We must be open to seeing the needs of others. Then we must act on meeting those identified needs. This is not something relegated to a select few. No, this is the responsibility of each person who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
There is a phrase which is frequently stated when a stranger comes into a new area, “you aint from these parts are you?” In the use of the phrase, the idea that the newcomer has done or said something which is unusual to the local culture is communicated. The person has been identified as an outsider, someone who does not belong. Since the individual is not “one of us,” they might be made fun of or even ostracized. This can cause the stranger to be denied certain privileges or opportunities.
The passage for today is found in Mark’s gospel shortly after the telling of Jesus’s transfiguration. A few of Jesus’s disciples come to him to let him know that an outsider was using Jesus’s name to cast out demons. The disciples indicated they had stopped the man. They anticipated words of appreciation and a pat on the back from Jesus. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples that their action was wrong. Anyone doing a positive act and attributing it to the power of Jesus is not inclined to speak ill about Jesus in the next breath. He says that a person who attributes their acts of love and compassion to Jesus is a benefit to the ministry.
Those who constitute the fellowship of the Church have at times acted like John and the disciples in this passage. Too often when word of a person or group who are making positive impacts within the community is received, those within the fellowship make disparaging remarks or attempt to sabotage the work. The expectation of a person having met a human-determined set of criteria as the only way to attribute the name of Jesus to their work has prevailed in the Church at times. Yes, a sense of caution is necessary to ensure that only actions aligned with the Lord’s teachings and purposes are associated with the Lord. But when this alignment exists, it is not our place or a benefit to halt the association. Afterall, all good things are from and a part of the Lord. The Church should be more concerned about the destructive nature of some of the actions which its members do while evoking the Lord’s name. In these situations, we should seek to partner with those attributing their actions to the Lord.
Influencing others carries a high level of responsibility. With the advent of social media, there is a new profession which has emerged. This new profession is a social media influencer. These individuals have built an audience on a variety of social media channels and platforms. They have built a reputation of being an expert with trusted knowledge through their regular posts on a specific topic. By establishing credibility they can influence how people view a topic which can include everything from spending decisions to the vote a person casts in an election. Social media platforms and media in general will pay these influencers to post and speak on their platforms. If traffic increases on the sites and/or networks because of the influencers appearance, the company can increase charges for advertisement.
Jesus speaks of influence in the verses which we read today. He uses the imagery of salt and light as he instructs his disciples to be influencers of their day. They are told they must make a difference. He warns that if they stop making a difference in the world, they will lose their ability to serve God in a meaningful way. The influence which they are to make through their lives is to prompt people to come to the Lord in praise.
We are called to be influencers. Like the social media influencers of our day, we are to prompt people into action not by our knowledge and expertise but by the way we live our lives. Jesus tells us that as people witness our actions and choices, they should be prompted to move towards the Lord who we profess to follow and believe in. It is not about what we say as much as it is about how we live. We are to flavor people’s lives in positive ways and be a guiding light towards the Lord.
Since the onset of the Industrial Age, people have been on a continuous path toward convenience. We have become people that seek a more convenient life in which we do not labor as hard and have more opportunities for leisure and recreation. If you have been to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, you may have enjoyed the ride, Carousel of Progress, in Tomorrowland. This ride takes the guest through various decades and highlights how inventions have made our lives more convenient and our work easier. We have become people who often reject anything which might be inconvenient for us.
In Luke we are told about a time when Jesus encounters potential followers while walking down a road. In each encounter, the person who speaks with Jesus indicates a desire to follow him. The first man is told by Jesus that he must be willing to accept inconvenient accommodations. The other two will only follow if they can do so at a convenient time for them. Jesus points out that following him is not based upon what is convenient for the follower.
How often we are wanting to be convenient followers of Jesus. We appear to be eager to follow but we would like following to not inconvenience us. We set aside a specific time once a week to worship. We agree to attend Bible studies, informative classes, and fellowship times as long as they fit into our schedules and demand a limited amount of time. Our willingness to participate in service projects inside and outside the walls of a church building is contingent on the other activities in our lives and again, if the time commitment is not too much. Like the followers in Luke’s account we are often “I will follow but…” types of Jesus followers.
Jesus requires ALL from us. He requires our time, our talents, our energy, even our very lives. If we are wanting to be followers of Jesus, we must be willing to be inconvenienced.
People who live in a small community have easy access to the personal aspects of one another’s lives. Having grown up in a small, rural, Midwestern town of less than a thousand people, I knew that my parents would know anything I was a part of or the opposite end of town before I could even reach home. This unfiltered sharing of personal activities is a double edged sword. On one hand, it lends itself to a sense of safety and immediate crisis response. On the other hand, it can lead to the possibility of personal information being shared too freely among individuals who are not involved in a situation. A town of busy bodies can arise with people attempting to interject themselves where they should not.
Our passage today appears at the end of the Gospel according to John. Jesus is talking to Peter about feeding the sheep. Peter sees a disciple who was next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus what will happen to this disciple. Jesus responds by saying Peter should not worry about the other disciple’s future, if Jesus wants him to live until Jesus returns that is what will happen. Peter is told to focus on following Jesus.
Jesus is telling Peter something which can benefit us at times. There is a clear difference between being concerned about a person’s well-being and attempting to interject ourselves into a situation which does not concern us. Jesus makes it clear that our first priority is to follow him. Before we concern ourselves with the spiritual health and welfare of others, we care to focus on our own spiritual health. We can play a support role for others as they follow Jesus but it is not our place to play a judgment role in how they are following Jesus. Jesus said it well when he said,
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Jesus’s point here in today’s passage is to focus on following him and let him focus on how another is following.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
Today is called Ascension Day in the church calendar. This day has been set aside in the Church to recall Jesus ascending into heaven. The day is always the fortieth day of Easter, or forty days after Easter Sunday. On this day, we reflect upon the account from Gospels (except John’s) and the recording of the ascension in the Book of Acts.
Matthew’s account is what we focus upon here. This passage at the very end of this Gospel is often referred to as the Great Commission. The eleven remaining apostles have gathered at the mountain where Jesus has told them to meet him. Most scholars believe the location is the Mount of Olives but Matthew does not name it specifically. Once gathered, Jesus commissions the apostles to go into all nations. He instructs them to make disciples of all people, baptizing in the name of the Trinity and teaching them his commands to follow. Matthew does not say if Jesus then ascends or not. The first chapter in the Book of Acts indicates his ascension was during a meal he was sharing with the apostles. The writer of Matthew emphasizes the commissioning and the promise of Jesus’s eternal presence.
For the Church, and all followers of Christ, these words in Matthew are the marching orders. Jesus commissions all of us and tells us what we are to be about. He calls us into action with the action word “go.” We are not to be idle but in motion. Then he tells us where to go, “all nations.” Our activity is not to be within the walls of the church but in the world. We are to teach, welcome people into God’s family and show what the life of a follower should reflect. Each of us are given the promise that while we are engaged in living out our commission, Jesus is present in our lives and forevermore.
On the day we acknowledge our belief that Jesus ascended into heaven, we are mindful that we have been commissioned. Each of us has been commissioned to continue Jesus’s ministry in the world. We are to actively go into this world and share Christ wherever we have been sent. We are to teach, welcome, forgive, demonstrate, listen, respond, and love as Jesus continues to do in our lives.