In The World, But Not Of The World

Jesus is our perfect model for being in the world, but not of the world.
He was found where people were found, ate what people ate, lived in a political world without being absorbed in politics, surrounded by a wide gamut of social issues yet never lost sight of His Father’s balanced agenda, always put God first while remaining amazingly approachable.

We need to examine carefully His example lest our good intentions distort the priorities of the Kingdom. God is not the God of our cause; He has his on agenda. Christ-likeness, therefore, is not just the best way to go, it is the only way.

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OMMM, A “MANTRA” FOR EFFECTIVE CHRISTIANITY

OMMM, not really a mantra, but an acrostic to pursue successful Christianity.

OBJECTIVE (needing to be objectified), CHRIST-LIKENESS (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 2:5; Gal. 2:20).

MOTIVATION, JESUS (Jn. 14:15, 23; I Cor. 5:14-15).

MATERIAL, SCRIPTURE (II Tim. 3:16-17; Jn. 17:17)

METHOD(S), CHRIST-IMITATED (Acts 1:1; I Cor. 11:1).

These create a synergistic effect that is powerful in the most extreme way. Jesus, however, must be the key in this energizing of Christianity. He must shape it, define it, motivate it, supply it, lead it, and serve as its model in every way!
This will work if we are willing to make the commitment. It is in fact, how Christianity is supposed to function (Rom. 8:29; I Cor. 2:10-16; II Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20, 4:19; Eph. 3:16-17; 4:11-16; Phil. 2:5; Col. 1:24-29; I Pet. 3:15, etc.).

JESUS AND CHILDREN

The Tulip Poplar

A Lesson Learned in Youth

The day was a scorcher; my hometown isn’t called “Hot-lanta” without reason. Rickey Jones, no relation, was wedged a few branches up in a large tulip poplar. “Edwin,” he said groggily, “I don’t ever want to grow up.” “What are you talking about,” I said in my own midday stupor?

Then Rickey said one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard. “Because when people grow up they act stupid.” I carefully collected myself in the face of such weighty thinking. It hit me for the first time with the full force of this profound reality. The grownups I knew had evidently gone through some sort of change when they stopped being children.

My peers in the just-before-teen range were different. It wasn’t just about our not knowing as much or how we lacked in life skills, there was something more significant. We were still holding on to something special.

This was one of those life-changing moments! I made a promise to myself in classic Peter Pan style, “I’m not going to grow up.”

I know some of you who know me are snickering and thinking, “That’s one promise he kept.” I’ll admit adult ways are sometimes not my favorite things. I still believe Rickey made good sense.

LEADERSHIP IN THE JESUS’ STYLE

The Jesus Style of Leadership

Matthew 20:20-28

             There are few lessons Jesus taught that are of greater practical importance to His cause than His teaching about leadership. Leadership is without doubt vital to the success of God’s people. From the Old Covenant prophets (Jer. 3:15; 23:1-2), to Christ in His earthly ministry (Matt. 9:36-38), to the Church Age (Acts 20:28), serious attention is given to those who lead the people of God.

            Of all the passages that deal with leadership, perhaps the one that best captures the essence of the subject is Matthew 20:20-28. The context, the teaching, and the example of Christ all combine in these few verses to portray the heart of Christ-like leadership.

            The context of the passage finds James and John jockeying for position in the soon-to-come Messianic kingdom. They even got their mother involved in the maneuvering! Jesus made it very plain; however, that the kind of leadership they coveted was not suitable for His kingdom. What they wanted was the style practiced by the rulers of this world. Jesus wanted otherwise.

            Jesus’ admonition in these verses adds additional power to His rebuke of James and John. Earthly rulers are the ones who exploit their authority over others. Secular powerbrokers major on issuing commands that reflect their selfish, personal wishes. Jesus says that the self-centered, authoritarian way of the world is totally unacceptable among His people!

            Additionally, and most powerfully, the personal example of Jesus left no room for misunderstanding. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Greatness for the Christ came in the form of humble service. As Jesus saw it, being great meant being a slave. Therefore, those our Lord regards highest are those who become as slaves to others. If Jesus, God’s sinless Son, could be a servant-leader, how can we refuse to do otherwise?

            All too often, however, our models for leadership come from corporate America. The boardroom with its closed doors and political style of maneuvering has wielded more influence among us than we might care to admit. Jesus, in forming the church, created a spiritual family (Matt. 12:46-50; I Cor. 12:12, 14, 20). We have sometimes invented a military-like chain of command or corporate matrix. Therefore, personalized, servant leadership in a family setting is, at times, replaced by a detached, cloistered group of decision makers.

            Even well intending men can all too easily find themselves molded by the world rather than being transformed by the Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). Projects become more important than people, points of an agenda get more attention than the needs of the flock, and schedules interfere with immediate shepherding needs. Such a situation can also bring about a strong temptation to serve for the personal pride of holding a position rather than to humbly serve the cause of Jesus.

            The cure is found in the Jesus Model. Unlike the many secular based rivals, it is the only one that insures that kingdom business will be properly addressed. The rule exercised by God’s leaders has nothing whatsoever to do with personal preferences and everything to do with the mind of Christ (I Cor. 10:16). Servant/slave leadership destroys convenience, pride, prejudice, and politics as prime movers and establishes sacrifice, humility, fairness, and biblical principles to rule in the church. Indeed, only the Christ-given model can ever succeed in a spiritual kingdom. As with all things, let us look to God rather than to the world as our example for acceptable, productive leadership. Remember, brothers and sisters, among us the Christ rules!

TEACHING LIKE JESUS, PART FIVE

JESUS TAUGHT TO CULTIVATE A RELATIONSHIP

OF LOVE BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HIS DISCIPLES

                        Depending on whether you use a KJV or NKJV as your basic study text or you use a translation based on an eclectic Greek text such as the ASV or NASB, you will get the principle first in either John 14:15 or John 14:23.  Either way, the key to success in the teaching process, viewed as a whole, is easy to grasp, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

                        In the church, we often fret and fuss over failures and unsuccessful ventures.  We wonder what to do? We try different programs and methods that only frustrate us.  We have long lists of “things” to try, but these things seem to give only fleeting results at best.  What is missing?

                        The answer is simple – we fail due to a lack of love.  That doesn’t mean there is a total lack of love, just that there is an insufficient amount necessary for the challenge at hand.  This principle has gigantic implications that should forever change the way we commonly teach.  If we really want to be successful, we need to first focus on growing in our love for Jesus.  To the extent that we love Him, we serve Him and serve Him well.

                        A conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter in John 21:15-19 is instructive at this point.  Prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, Jesus had told Peter he would deny Him, which, as we know, Peter said he would not do (Mk. 14:27-31; Lk. 22:31-34).  The conversation at the end of John’s gospel draws from that previous exchange between Peter and Christ.

                        In the passage from John, there is an interesting twist in the Greek text.  The back and forth between Jesus and Simon employs the word “love” six times, three by Jesus, three by Simon.  It goes like this:  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  The curious feature, unrevealed in our English Bibles, is that “love” is not always translated from the same Greek word.  In order of appearance from the Greek text, it goes like this:  First exchange – agapao/phileo; second exchange – agapao/phileo; third exchange – phileo/phileo.

                        Two principal views are advanced to explain this peculiarity.  Some feel it is merely a stylistic characteristic common to John. He often uses two different words to mean the same thing.  The other main line of interpretation believes there is more to be made of the words chosen than just John’s writing style. I side with the latter.

                        While it is true John does, at times, use words with double meanings and either meaning can fit, or use different words to mean the same thing – this looks different to me.  The a/b, a/b, b/b rhythm is unbalanced, it is not uniform.  Those who read the gospel in Greek would have readily noticed the obvious difference at the point of the third exchange.

                        Here’s what I make of it.  Remember the pre-crucifixion conversation where Peter pledged not to deny the Lord, only to deny Him three times. The later conversation in John seems to draw a direct connection as Jesus asks Peter for a threefold affirmation.  Additionally, although agapao and phileo can be used interchangeably, and John does this on occasion (cf. Jn. 3:35 and 5:20; 11:5 and 11:36), the words possess a degree contrast. Unlike the common view that phileo is purely emotional and agape involves only dogged determination, the differences are not always so stark (note I Cor. 13:4-8a where agapao is shown to have quite a bit of emotional content).

                        Although the two words have overlap, there is also the possibility of contrast.  Phileo may have a stronger emotional emphasis; it does not have as strong a mental toughness as agapao might express.  The point of the Holy Spirit using the different words, I believe, was Simon’s need for both a stronger and a different sort of love.

                        Jesus deals with Peter’s need in a very realistic and helpful manner, though the process is a difficult one for Simon.  First, Jesus gives him a reality check so He and Simon can move forward in keeping with the realistic nature of their relationship.  In short, Simon did not have as strong a love as he had previously professed.  In order to grow, Simon needed to begin where he was in his commitment to Jesus.  The third exchange in John 21:15-17 highlights this reality check.

                        In the third question and answer phase of the conversation, Peter is not, as I understand it, upset because Jesus asks him a third time if he loves Him.  In other words, the number of times the question was asked is not the issue.  I am convinced the matter striking Simon in the third exchange is that Jesus questions if Peter actually possessed phileo love.  Thus, I believe Peter’s third response finds him smarting because Jesus now asks him if he truly does have even the lower level of love represented by the word phileo.

                        Peter’s third response virtually cries out, “You know all things; you know I don’t have the agapao level of love I professed, but you do know I have phileo love for you.” At this sobering moment, I believe a needed reality was achieved!

                        Yes, Peter had a strong love for Jesus. I believe he would have died for Him without hesitation, if he could have done it his way (cf. Jn. 18:10). Phileo, however, has its limitations. Agapao has an expression exceeding that of phileo; agapao can act when everything else, including phileo, gives up and runs away. Peter needed growth in his love for Jesus. He would later experience that growth in his love (Jn. 21:18), but it needed additional development. Jesus was willing to take Peter where he was and move on to better days. He is willing and eager to do the same with us.

                        My point is this, if we are going to move forward with our Christ-likeness, we must have a sufficiently strong love – otherwise our progress will be slowed.  Therefore, Jesus developed relationships with people so their love for Him could increase the quality of both their character and their service.  We should honor this vital factor and give a strong priority to cultivating an ever-growing love for Jesus in ourselves and in those we teach.

                        How will we do this?  Remember how we previously observed there was a message in how God determined that the four Gospels would fill about 50% of the New Testament. A light bulb of discovery should be turning on at this point. Jesus living among us in the flesh is without doubt the most pointed focus of the New Testament. This “in the flesh” view of the Christ is fundamental to all that follows in the church (cf. Jn. 1:14, 18; 14:8-9).

                        We have at times heard among that Acts 2 and the beginning of the church is the “hub” of the Bible.  It may be “a” hub, but it is not “the” hub.  Jesus, the builder, founder, and anchor of all that pertains to the church is the undisputed, unrivaled, unchallenged “hub” of the Bible. Our love and loyalty to Jesus is what establishes our love and loyalty to His church, not the other way around.

                        I have considerable passion for this point, but you can easily see the reason for the passion.  All loves are secondary to our love for God. In the Christian Age, this love focuses on the Christ (cf. Jn.16:13-16).

                        Therefore, let’s reflect on a pivotal passage in the Epistles to reinforce even further the critical nature of our point about loving Jesus.  Our text is II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their ¬¬¬¬behalf (NASB).”  The point is hard to miss isn’t it?

                        Now, back to our point relating to extremely high percentage of New Covenant content taken up by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Here we see Jesus in action in the best object lesson God could ever give – God in the flesh (Jn. 2:14; 14:7-9).  We get a sense of who God is and what that means for our life in this incarnated opportunity that surpasses all other learning experiences.

                        As we see Jesus in action, if we have any ability at all to appreciate and love God, this will arrest our hearts.  His courage, compassion, brilliance, commitment, devotion, energy, ingenuity, wisdom, zeal and love make Him the Man among men.  Jesus is unlike any person who has ever lived.  If we cannot love Him, how could we ever love anything?  We will be drawn to Him in shameless adoration, unless selfishness and pride are allowed to rule (cf. Lk. 7:36-50).

                        Moreover, the clincher is this; this God/Man died for us!  While we were sinners, He died for us (Rom. 5:6-8)!  He is the greatest gift of love that ever could be given (Jn. 12:32-33)!

                        The Gospels are indeed foundational.  Some have shortchanged this truth; others have distorted it to undermine the presence of the mind of Christ in the Epistles. The fact, however, remains — the Gospels are fundamental.  Apart from the Christ presented in the Gospels, there is no reason to move any further with the New Covenant.  Because of Jesus, however, there is every reason to grow in our love and our service to the Christ.

                        Yes, to grow in love for Jesus is truly the key.  Even as a devoted mother would suffer great injury, even death, without thinking of abandoning her child, so a devoted love for Jesus will not think of abandoning Him!  Much more than not abandoning Him, however, we will imitate Him without embarrassment, even as a child imitates a beloved parent.

                        Teaching begins with love; the love Jesus has for us and the love we have for Him. Apart from the motivation of love, we will fail.  The lesson is unavoidable; we need to employ as a first priority the development of relationships of love between Jesus and all of humanity. Our teaching must seek this high standard.

SUMMATION AND CONCLUSION

                        JESUS is preeminent. The “Jesus First” principle of always looking first to Him is non-negotiable. His character was the basis for His success as a teacher. From His God-like nature He successfully employed a variety of real-world discovery methods to engage the true searchers in a great adventure of personal growth. As the greatest, most giving person who ever lived, He draws us to love Him with a love exceeding all others. With the love of Christ in our hearts we are motivated to serve Him with the best we possess. As we teach, let us remember these things. May we use our knowledge to grow in the Lord and help others to do likewise.

Teaching Like Jesus, Part Four

PARTICIPATION AS A FACTOR IN CHRIST-LIKENESS

                        One other needful thing Jesus put into the character development mix was the active participation of His learners.  We touched on this earlier when we noted discovery learning requires a learner to participate mentally in the learning process.  In addition to using our brains, Jesus wants us to use what we discover and apply it to life – practice makes perfect.

                        Some “for instances” are in order.  If we are to get the most out of our teaching opportunities, those opportunities need to be seen as part of a bigger whole.  Since we are talking about character development, instruction alone is not enough.  Christ-like maturity isn’t like memorizing state capitals for a History test.  If teaching is to lead to character development, we need mental participation to make discoveries using the facts we have taken in, but we also need to apply and practice our discoveries (Heb. 5:14).

                        Notice how Jesus expected people to do something with what He taught them.  Preceding the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told the inquiring lawyer regarding the two greatest commandments, “…do this and you will live” (Lk. 10:28).  After the story, He said, “Go and do the same” (Lk. 10:37).  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the folly of merely saying “Lord, Lord” and of the wisdom involved when we both hear and do (Matt. 7:21-27).  He pointedly asked why people would talk the talk without walking the walk (Matt. 23:3; Lk. 6:46). Jesus wanted action.

                        Therefore, it would seem we need to include “doing” in our teaching ministry.  When children are involved we need partnerships with the home that will be something more than just grudgingly filling in the blanks of a workbook.  We need real-world deeds to do.  Families making commitments to be collectively involved in serving others would be a good way to address this need.  Personal responsibilities for individual students, supported, facilitated, and encouraged by parents would also foster character development.

                        Similarly, adults could work with their mates, or with their Bible class, or with smaller groups, or in private life to put into practice what they are discovering or what they already know.  The things we know factually come to be better understood and appreciated when we use our knowledge in practical ways (Heb. 5:14).

                        A congregational-wide commitment can also be developed with encouragement given to all members to participate (Eph. 4:16).  We are, after all, a body – each of us has something to do as we work together as a family (I Cor. 12:12-27).  Also, let us remember, Jesus is not a subscriber to the 80/20 principle where 80% of the work is done by 20% of the membership.  If the Holy Spirit endorsed that minimalist concept, I Corinthians 12:12-27 would never have been written!

                        Our journey of discovery has covered a considerable distance. We have observed several vital truths. Jesus taught from within Himself to address effectively the real world He faced.  In so doing, He most commonly used discovery-learning strategies to facilitate character development.  In this, He not only wanted mental participation, He wanted people to practice what He preached.  Education needs to honor these principles.  With everything thus far presented in mind, we are ready for the vital missing ingredient – the secret to 100% success every time!

Teaching Like Jesus, Part Three

JESUS TAUGHT TO DEVELOP CHARACTER

                        As is a consequence of Jesus’ purpose to develop character as a result of His teaching content; He therefore taught in a manner in keeping with His purpose.  It all added up and fit together as a seamless whole.

                        Jesus, as we have observed, was not interested in simply teaching to impart factual understanding.  Yes, He did indeed teach facts and knew their indispensible value.  He did, however, see facts or truths as a means to a larger, more fundamentally significant, goal.  He wanted receptive hearts to be transformed by His words.  He wanted people who would enthusiastically latch on to the values that characterize God.  He wanted people who would in their eager reception of the truth be dramatically changed from within.  We have no right to aspire to anything short of His lofty purpose.

                        Perhaps this is a good place to pause a moment and observe how the New Testament consistently encourages Jesus’ emphasis on character development.  Consider the implications of the following verses as they relate to the development of Christ-like character:

            1.         John 1:1, 14, 18

            2.         John 14:7-9

            3.         Matthew 11:27-30

            4.  Romans 8:9, 29

            5.  I Corinthians 2:10-16

            6.  II Corinthians 3:18

            7.  Galatians 2:20; 4:19

            8.  Ephesians 3:16-17; 4:11-16

            9.  Philippians 2:5

            10.  Colossians 1:24-29

            11.  I Thessalonians 3:11-13

            12.  II Thessalonians 3:3-5

            13.  I Timothy 1:5; 3:2a

            14.  II Timothy 2:15

            15.  Titus 3:5

            16.  Philemon 4-5

            17.  Hebrews 5:13 – 6:1a

            18.  James 2:14; 3:13-18

            19. I Peter 2:1-3; 3:15

            20.  II Peter 1:2-9

            21.  I John 3:3, 7, 10

            22.  II John 1-3

            23.  III John 11

            24.  Jude 20-21

            25.  Revelations 2:4-5

                        It is not that we are unaware of the existence of the passages listed above. Our problem is we sometimes do not give them their due weight.  In our teaching, we are not always practically focused on the content of our instruction. Everything we teach should relate to God’s overarching purpose of Christ-likeness.

                        In saying Christians have not always been as focused as we should be; I do not mean we have not taught meaningful truths – we certainly have!  What I mean, brothers and sisters, is we aren’t always as plugged into God’s overriding purpose for Christianity as we should be. Therefore, we are not always as purposeful in our content.  What and how we teach may not, consequently, always be expected to result in Christ-like character development.