Being a Good Son – The Purpose of Discipleship

What’s the purpose of discipleship? What is following Jesus all about? Is it about rules for living – do this, don’t do that? How about tasks and accomplishments – achieving good works for God? Or could it be about self-improvement or getting better – becoming a person of high character? No, discipleship involves these things but it’s not about them. So what is it about?

Consider this passage from the Gospel of John:

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.   John 1:10-13 NLT [emphasis mine]

When we believe in Jesus we become children of God. Although God creates all people, we are by nature estranged from him. We’re not born as part of his family, but through trusting Jesus we can be reconciled to God; he becomes our loving heavenly father as we become his newly adopted children.

That sounds pretty good on its face. It should – God is all powerful – God is love – God provides and protects – God is merciful – God is the very definition of good! And if God is for us who can be against us?! This is going to be great! Well yes, that’s true. It is going to be great, but how exactly are we to be good children of God? How should we behave in this new parental relationship?

From our earthly relationships we have some idea of what it is to be a “good son” or “good daughter” to our parents. Most of us would like to have our children be “good children” and to be good children ourselves, but it does take effort.

In this life I haven’t always been the best son, but I’m learning. Unfortunately both of my parents have now passed away. Dad developed a rapidly progressive brain tumor and passed away almost five years ago. His last serious words to me were, “Take care of your mother” (he said it three times) and I promised I would. Mom, widowed and after a year of upheaval and grief, developed incurable gallbladder cancer herself just as she was becoming emotionally well again. She died about a year after the diagnosis.

That was a pretty intense few years for the entire Weiss family, and as the eldest sibling I had a large role in helping my parents through it. A very large investment of time and emotional energy was required.* (And some investment of money too.) I regarded it as my duty to help Mom and Dad, but it was also my pleasure and an honor to do so. I did my best to be a good son to them and did it happily. Honoring and serving them was costly in many ways but very worthwhile.

That’s how I’m thinking about discipleship; it’s not a task list, it’s about being a good son to God. How can I learn from him and become wise? Which of my actions honor him and which do not? How can I spend more time with him? How do I trust him more? Following Jesus is costly but there is nothing more worthwhile.

God loves all of us, and he’s looking for children not slaves. Why not trust Jesus, get a new heavenly Dad, and work on being a good kid?

Let me know if I can help.

Pete

*Let me here acknowledge my wonderful wife, Sharon, who also bore a large burden supporting my parents and me during this time of trial.

__________________________________________________

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

– Jesus, Matthew 13:44-46

__________________________________________________

Antique Wisdom for Today’s Problems

on the nightstand now

I like books of all sorts. When I’m interested in a topic I’ll often look for a book on it (after the internet, of course). Feeling middle-aged now and looking for enlightenment on aging, I recently turned to Amazon where I discovered a little gem of a book – The Faith of a Middle-Aged Man, A Little Book of Reassurance for Troubled Times.

There wasn’t much of an editorial description and there were no reviews. Although the release date was 2012, the description did make it clear that it was a reproduction of something much older. (All books published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain and various firms re-release them, often as photocopies.) I wasn’t really looking for a religious book, but the title was intriguing so I bought it. And I’m very glad I did.

The author is Henry Kingman, Senior Pastor of the Claremont Church in Claremont California. He’s writing in the midst of World War I – the book was released in 1917 – and grappling with all of the social changes going on at the turn of the century. I don’t think Reverend Kingman was “important” or famous; he doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry. As far as I know, he was an ordinary man trying to follow Jesus whatever the social upheaval. I like to think that’s me too.

Basically he’s written a little book on discipleship, and I’m loving it. His times were definitely “troubled” and very different than our own. Yet the inherent nature of the problems or issues of that time – war, suffering, poverty, libertinism, alcoholism, racism and the like – isn’t really all that different than what we face today. Man’s character hasn’t changed since the fall, and God does not change.  Jesus knows our nature, and we follow the same Jesus now as all who have followed.  So a lot of what Kingman writes resonates today, and how interesting it is to read it in the style of the early 1900s!

It’s humbling to be reminded that we who are alive now are not automatically made wiser that all who have come before us. Each of us begins knowing exactly nothing.  Hopefully we learn and grow steadily, becoming wise as we age.  Yet some do, some don’t. Modernity isn’t necessarily helpful here. So much of what “today, we all know…” just isn’t so. As with consumer products, we see a lot of “cheap junk” in the wisdom market.  Sometimes an antique is the better buy.

In any event, I like Kingman’s writing so much that I plan to share excerpts as they relate to topics I’ve written about. So, more to come! I hope that you find it as valuable as do I.

Pete

____________________________________

Seeing the World as It Really Is – Thank God for God!

Kevin Spacey, Trump, Hilary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, Russians, Facebook, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Politics, Google, Steve Mnuchin and wife, Wall Street, Violent Protesters, Crooked Cops, Lois Lerner, Baltimore, Greedy Admirals, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charlie Rose… where does it end? It’s been a remarkable couple of years. At this point everyone’s eyes should be opened to reality.

The powerful exploit the weak. Greed and corruption are endemic at all levels of government. What’s not overtly criminal is incompetent. Hypocrisy is so common that our first instinct is to assume “he’s lying” or has something to hide, and the next blockbuster story revealing a politician’s secret life confirms our jaundiced view. Even worse, what is evil attacks what is good. Honest people of high character are drawn down by those in the mud.

Here’s the deal – the world runs on power, sex and money. Really. See it. Believe it. It feels bad to admit it, but it’s true. I for one don’t really want to believe it. Like many others do, it would be nice to pretend that “people are inherently good.” “Oh sure, they’re a few bad apples out there, but you can trust people.” But that would be wrong. We all need to accept reality. The world is fallen and we can’t fix it.

Jesus reminds us of this, saying to his disciples; I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matt 10:16) His point was that they should understand the world’s corrupt and greedy operating system (for their own self protection) but not be corrupted themselves. Easy to say, hard to do. Christians are still trying to do that 2,000 years later.

And of course, pretty often the world wins, or seems to win in the short run. The disciples were almost all killed in nasty ways. Although we may not die for Jesus, being innocent, fair and honest doesn’t usually “pay off” in the ordinary sense of the term. As the saying goes, “nice guys finish last.” But again Jesus has words for us; “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And the disciples themselves give us a lot of advice on how to go about living rightly and cheerfully in wicked and troubled times. Here’s a bit:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)

And there’s more where that came from.

So if, like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, disillusioned and depressed, take heart! Be of good cheer despite the world. Encourage a brother or sister. Turn off Fox and CNN. Trust God. Follow Jesus and do the best you can. It will all work out just fine.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pete

________________________________________

Remember brothers and sisters, they can kill us but they can’t hurt us.
– Justin Martyr (beheaded 165 AD)

________________________________________

Escaping the Pressure Cooker

Generations ago, and in some places still, people’s main source of pressure was survival. Find food. Secure shelter. Avoid predators. Make it to tomorrow. Not so much of that in America today. But even here, modern life has its pressures. Pressure to be “successful,” to be liked, admired, to be beautiful, to fit in, to be accepted, to live a lifestyle. Life is full of such pressure. For many people, perhaps even most, life can be a virtual pressure cooker.

The media, and especially social media, are part of the problem. For professional reasons, I’ve been on LinkedIn more than usual lately and it’s bringing me down. Half the posts in my feed promise to reveal the secrets to being a “GREAT™ _________” (leader, CEO, operator, etc.) and the other half seem to be people revealing to everyone else just how GREAT of a ________ they are. Apparently they’re not too many ordinary people allowed out there anymore. We’ve all got to be Richard Branson or some other version of “GREAT!”

Of course not everyone can be great in the eyes of the world. Very few of us really. I don’t know about you, but I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be one of them. I’m not going to be awarded the Nobel Prize or the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Not going to be on “the 50 most influential people of ______” list. My books are not going to be bestsellers. No one will ever write my biography. Heck, I’ll probably never even have a Wikipedia entry (an essential step on the way to GREAT).

Fortunately the pressure is off. Not because I’ve given up the pursuit of excellence, I’m all for excellence. Life is serious. Results do matter.

The good news is that God does not call me to be GREAT but rather to be faithful. Having been fully accepted by God through faith and by the work of Jesus, I am relieved of the world’s performance pressures, while at the same time God’s Holy Spirit works through me to achieve his results. And he is not about mediocrity. All I’ve got to do is cooperate! (Yes, cooperating with God has to be worked at too but it’s way more pleasant than trying to be GREAT.)

I think that’s a very short version of the gospel of God, which is God’s good news to all of humanity. If you’re feeling the pressure, there is a way out. Jesus is the way. I can’t say why but he chose me; maybe he will choose you too. I hope he does!

Blessings,

Pete

When you KNOW

I worked out this morning, as I’ve done pretty regularly for 15 years. I say I enjoy it, and I do, but I also don’t. It’s hard, it’s strenuous. Pretty often, in the midst of it, I find myself thinking, Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just relax, sleep in, linger at breakfast? Is exercise really so important? No one will judge me if I let go a bit, relax, gain some weight, live how most people live. But then I think, No, I know what I have to do.

It’s the same with eating. Controlling your waistline is quite difficult, as we see from this morning’s CNN report – Obesity among all US adults reaches all-time high. I’m not heavy, but I’m newly refocused on my eating and drinking habits because of a troublesome case of ocular rosacea. I’ve begun supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids, which adds considerable calories to my daily intake, and cutting back on snacks and other less healthy fats. It’s not that easy but, once again, I know what I have to do.

Yet we all recognize that knowing isn’t doing. Most people are aware of all sorts of potentially beneficial behavior changes that they find themselves unable to implement. It’s just too hard. Hence the obesity epidemic. Don’t feel bad if this is you. Hey, I’ve been there myself. And of course I’m still there now for some things in my life.

Behavior change is more of a process than an event. Somewhere in this process a transition from simple knowing, or awareness, to a deep KNOWING, a conviction of what we must do, occurs, and that compels us to action. That kind of KNOWING seems to be what I have. I hope you get it too. But where does it come from? How does it happen? Is it just a matter of time?

Honestly, I’m not sure. We’re all different, but it’s not simply a matter of time otherwise everyone would be getting well. I’m giving credit to the Holy Spirit. God removes my shame. He convicts me of what is good and right, and he provides me with the power to act on that conviction. May he do the same for you.

Pete

____________________________________

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we KNOW [emphasis mine] you are the Holy One of God.

– John 6:66-69 NLT

Feeling Small (but peaceful)

Events have got me feeling small lately. Perhaps you too. From hurricanes and floods to shifts in the economy and culture, we are all caught up in natural and social forces beyond our control. Way beyond our control. Beyond our influence even. America has over 300 million residents of which I am just one. The world has 7½ billion. I will not be changing the world or the country.

Our American culture and media don’t encourage thinking of oneself as small and relatively powerless. On the contrary, people are encouraged to worry about numerous issues over which they have no (or exceedingly little) influence. We’re told to “stand up,” “be heard” and “make a difference” on every new “crisis.” I think all that does is get us agitated and shouting at (or worse – fighting with) one another. And the media feeds off the fighting. Regardless, the vast majority of us are just along for the ride as large-scale history is written.

Yet here I am. I’m alive! I can enjoy my life, and I’ve got plenty of personal and local issues on which I can, and should, make a difference. Issues such as my health, wellbeing, marriage, family, friends, church, finances, home, and neighborhood. The more I focus on these and the less on geopolitics and major cultural shifts, the better I get. Thinking small is working for me.

However, even at the personal level, many events are still outside of my control. For example, I’ve recently developed an irritating case of ocular rosacea (fortunately minor, but illustrative). Illness comes. Aging continues. Accidents happen. Jobs end. The kids are going to do what they’re going to do. That’s life.

Truly, I am small. I can’t control much, but I trust in the one who can. Therefore, I can be at peace. I wish you the same.

Pete

______________________________________

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– Jesus (Mathew 6:25-34 NIV)

Finding the Safe Space

I’m not a big believer in the concept of “safe spaces,” at least not as it’s being advanced by those (mostly but not exclusively young) people who seem endlessly offended by thoughts, ideas and words which conflict with their thoughts, ideas and visions for the world. On the other hand, full intellectual engagement with the media, social media, friends and associates on the topics of the day is certainly draining. So it’s reasonable to seek to protect oneself, to create one’s own “safe space” for rest, recovery and renewal. That’s what I’m trying to do.

I’ve been withdrawing a bit from the media and social media, skipping newspaper articles and Facebook posts that I would ordinarily read. Too stressful to engage. And really, what’s the point? Does anyone care what I think? What concrete actions would I take in response? Why inflame or depress myself if there is nothing for me to do about things?

At the same time, I feel the need to work on my character and draw closer to God. Wouldn’t it be great to have more peace and equanimity regardless of the actions of others and the stories of the day? Sure it would. And God promises that, but we have to do the work. To that end, I’ll be participating in a new men’s discipleship program on the spiritual disciples (source text here) beginning next week. I’m pretty excited. It’s just what I need! I wonder, did my church leaders create it just for me? Seems like it. Maybe they did. Who knows how God is working in this?

Praise God! Although he’s mysterious, we do know that he is working in all things for the good of those who love him. All things. Each of us will experience at least some very distressing things in our lives. This world can be a cruel place, and no amount of social engineering is going to cure oppression, poverty, sickness and death. Shit happens, and it happens to the weak and the powerful alike. Yet, God is here and he is good.

Hence Jesus. Has not Jesus reconciled us to God and overcome the world? Is not Jesus the safe space? I think he is. Find him. Follow him. And, as always, let me know if I can help.

Stay safe,

Pete

______________________________________________

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

– Jesus (John 16:33 NIV)

______________________________________________

…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose…

…If God is for us, who can be against us?…

…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– The Apostle Paul (Romans 8:28;31;38-39 NIV)

______________________________________________