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.

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“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

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On Bad Behavior – There but for the Grace of God Go I

As we covered in the last post, bad behavior is epidemic in the world. Always has been, always will be (that is until Jesus comes back). But something does seem different now; for whatever reason, we are seeing the corruption more clearly than ever. Individually and collectively, we now know that we have a large problem of moral decay in America today.

In a healthy response, people are demanding accountability, demanding that the powerful should experience consequences for abuses of power. I’m all for that, but I’m also detecting a spirit of judgementalism or self-righteousness in many of the criticisms and calls for “zero tolerance” or “heads to roll” (as it were). Perhaps because the abusive behavior seems so extreme, we’re able to see ourselves (and I’m including myself here) as “better than that,” not like the abusers.  It’s easy to do, and it feels good. As the Pharisee prayed, God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

On the other hand, we are supposed to be good! It’s good to be good, and many of us are working (and it does take effort) to live honestly and morally. When I hear of some new accusation, I really want to be “better than that.” Moreover, I think God wants me to be better than that. But God also wants, and deserves, the credit. That last part was the Pharisee’s problem.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”         Luke 18:9-14 ESV [emphasis mine]

I’m happy that I sin less than I used to, but giving credit where credit is due, it’s God who has changed and is changing me, giving me an increasing desire for righteousness and greater self-control. Even then, my self-control is not enough to avoid or resist all temptation and I ask God for his intervention to help me live as I want to and ought to. This prayer comes to mind a lot:

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with the food that is needful for me,

lest I be full and deny you

and say, “Who is the LORD?”

or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9 ESV

Truly, I (or you) could be as wicked as any of the people profiled in the investigative journalism story of the week. Let’s let go of the self-righteousness and contempt. The saying “There but for the grace of god go I” is valid for all offenses. I’m trying to keep that in mind as new stories break. How about you?

Pete

 

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

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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

More Compassion, Less Piling On

compassionnoun
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Sharon was out of town last weekend, and I thought I’d relax and watch a late night movie. Perusing our small DVD collection I ran across MASH, a film I’ve preciously enjoyed, and thought “that’ll do.” Sometimes it’s nice to just go mindless for a while with a movie that I know already. So I hit the play button and settled in for the evening.

Twenty minutes later I was unsettled. The film wasn’t sitting well with me. The lead characters are arrogant and mean, and their meanness bothered me. I’ve seen MASH before, many times, but this time was different. I was uncomfortable trying to enjoy it. It didn’t seem like something that I should enjoy. Eventually I hit eject and went to bed.

Although this seems to mark some sort of internal shift for me, I have been thinking about meanness versus compassion for the last few months. My social media feeds have way too many mean spirited posts and comments about people suffering the consequences of drug addiction, criminal behavior, or just plain bad judgment. Some comments are shocking in their nastiness. Do the posters truly think that the foolish young man deserved to die (probably after torture) at the hands of North Korean officials? God help them.

In healthcare, and in life, we all see a lot of undeserved suffering. Disease and misfortune befall people for no reason other than “bad luck.” Knowing that we too are vulnerable, we can be moved to compassion. But just as often, or maybe more, people create their own mess. Smokers get lung cancer. The texting driver crashes and dies. Shall we be indifferent to their suffering, or even cruel, piling on with hurtful commentary? Apparently a lot of people believe we should.

I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. We are to be compassionate, and we should be able to see that “there, but for the grace of God go I.” That doesn’t mean endorsing bad or foolish behavior. Some things are simply wrong. Nor are we compelled to fix everything (even if we could) for those suffering harsh consequences of their behavior.  But we can be compassionate.

I don’t know if  anyone can summon compassion in every circumstance; some behavior is truly heinous, but ending the piling on in social media seems like a good place to start. God help all of us.

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“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” – Jesus, (Matthew 7:12 NLT)

One Day You’re an Expert

I’ve been experiencing a great deal of change recently, and another big one is right around the corner. In two weeks I’ll be leaving my current employer to become an independent consultant in the healthcare industry. It’s pretty exciting. I guess it could also be scary, but I’m trusting God and I’m ready for this particular change.

Having dinner with a younger colleague last week, and discussing my plans, the more general topic of career progression came up. After I explained my career journey, he had a couple of questions. “So, how does one get to be ‘an expert,’ to arrive in a position where others seek you as a consultant? Any advice to pass along?”

I don’t know that I had too much smart to say. Most of my thoughts on the topic are pretty basic, and my answer was something like this: Do your best at your current job. Keep learning. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Research what others are doing. Go to conferences and meetings. Read. Talk with colleagues. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own knowledge and ability and you’ll realize that you’re an expert. At least that’s what happened to me.

Something similar seems to have happened with my emotional wellbeing. I’ve thought about this kind of career move before, but it seemed too scary, too distant. Now it seems at hand. I’m finding myself to be calm and at peace with this major change. Also as you’d expect, I’m trusting God. It feels good, surprisingly good. It’s surprising enough for me to ask myself, “Wait a minute! Why am I not more worried about this? How and when did I become a calm, peaceful person? When did I get this faith?”

I think the answers are a lot like those involving my career. Do the best you can at following Jesus. Pray. Listen. Talk with others of like mind. Pay attention to your emotions. Have whatever faith you can muster. Read the Bible. Work through your emotions as best you can. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own inner state and you’ll realize that you’re a calm and peaceful person of faith. At least that’s what happened to me.

Praise God.

Peace,

Pete

Change Happens

“Lookin back at my background tryin’ to
figure out how I ever got here.
Some things are still a mystery to me
While others are much to clear.”

Migration – Jimmy Buffet

 

Like I said a few weeks ago, things can happen fast, and change is a constant. But it sure is hard to get used to, isn’t it? I’ve spent the last week or so reflecting on all of the recent (and not so recent) changes in my life, and thinking about how I, myself, have changed. While recognizing that I am certainly the same individual human being as I was in high school, I also feel like a “different person” in many respects. It’s a strange feeling – I’m still me, but a different me.

A casual conversation on this topic with my friend Curt (who is into music), led me to pull out my Jimmy Buffett CD collection, and I’ve been listing to them in the car all week. His music really takes me back. I can remember the various stages of life I was in when each album came out, and the music brings back memories of good times as well as stressful times. I’ve been enjoying his lyrics and melodies for over 40 years.

Can we agree that Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes is clearly the best Jimmy Buffett album?  It has really withstood the test of time for me.  I still love it, every song.  Everything may be different since 1977, but that recording endures, unchanged by time. Maybe it’s that sameness that’s the reason his songs bring up such memories for me, and why music often seems to take people back to the past.

Constancy, stability, sameness. We don’t get that too much in life. Maybe in certain foods – Oreos are pretty much the same as decades ago – but otherwise change is the rule. People, places, organizations, things, jobs, relationships, and technology – everything seems in constant flux. And it’s all speeding up.  What’s a person to do?

“It’s those changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
if we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes – Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy is right. We have to roll with the punches.  It’s good to have the ability to laugh, to be lighthearted, despite and through life’s inevitable changes, but what can allow you to do that? What’s helping me through is placing my trust and confidence in Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t change. He doesn’t forget his people or his promises, and his arm is never too short. Facing uncomfortable changes? Seek the Unchanging. I’m nobody special; God will help you too.

Take care,

Pete

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What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved 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.

Romans 8:31-9 NIV