Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Longings and Groanings - A summary of my Old Testament Reading in 2013

This year, I read through the Old Testament guided by Luke 24:27 - "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." I've been looking through these ancient Hebrew writings asking the question, "where do I see Jesus?" As I looked for Jesus, I began to identify with the deep longing expressed by God's people.

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13)

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,” (Hebrews 11:39)

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Peter 1:10–12) 

The word that comes to mind as a summary of my Old Testament reading this year is the word, "longing". The New Testament also uses the word "groaning" to describe the same thing. Those seeking to follow the ways of God in the Old Testament seemed to realize that something substantial, something personal was missing. Often they expressed that desire for a personal God whose face they might see in the most emotional ways. Peter says that the prophets searched intently and with the greatest care to find out when that longing would be fulfilled. The writer of Hebrews commends the great saints of old saying that they died in faith, not having received the things promised.

The gospel is the announcement of the great truth that all of our deepest desires can be met because of one person: Jesus Christ. Fully man and fully God. Eternal, yet personal. Sinless, yet tempted. Perfect, yet approachable. The mediator. The very face of God. Still we see that face dimly, but we do see the face! And we have the hope of seeing His face clearly and becoming just like Him. The longings expressed in the Old Testament are human longings. They are the same longings that agonize people today and sin is their attempt to fill those longings in some inadequate way. The good news is that Jesus can fulfill that longing and today He is available to everyone who will call on Him by faith and follow Him in obedience.

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”
(Psalms 13:1–2)
“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”
(Psalms 13:5)

“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD? There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” (Psalms 14:3–7) 

In Psalm 13, the Psalmist speaks from the perspective of personal emptiness without the presence of Christ in His life. He feels as if God is far off and that the enemy is exalted over Him. He is longing for Christ. This is a personal longing, he needs Jesus. He ends the Psalm by telling God that while his longing is not fulfilled, he trusts in the steadfast love of God.

In Psalm 14, the Psalmist speaks from the perspective of corporate sin. He looks around and sees that everyone has turned aside and become corrupt. He sees that people are fearful, full of evil, and without God. Again the Psalmist expresses his powerful longing that salvation would come out of Zion. He is looking for Jesus and longing for Him just as powerfully as he did in the previous Psalm, but this time it's for the needs he sees all around him. Psalm 13 says, I need Jesus. Psalm 14 says we need Jesus. Only Jesus can meet my deepest needs and only Jesus can meet the deepest needs expressed in society. If I settle for anything less than Jesus personally, I will be disappointed and will harm myself. If I offer anything less to the people around me, I do them a great disservice. I must trust Jesus to be all that He says He is, both for me and from me to the people in my world.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Books I Read in 2013

I'm going to take a bit of a pause in my paraphrasing of AB Bruce's Training of the Twelve as I reflect on the past year and do some goal setting for the New Year. Here is a list of the top ten books I read in the past year in no particular order. Some of these books are old and some are new, but each of them impacted me in some way in the past year.

  1. Training of the Twelve - AB Bruce (2nd time reading this book, got a lot more from it this time)
  2. Spiritual Leadership - Richard Blackaby
  3. Killing Kennedy - Bill O’Reilly
  4. Mandela - Martin Meredith
  5. No Easy Day - Mark Owen
  6. T4T A Discipleship Re-Revolution - Steve Smith
  7. Surfing For God - Michael John Cusick
  8. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership - Henri Nouwen
  9. Daily Life at the time of Jesus - Miriam Vamosh 
  10. Finding God in It’s a Wonderful Life - Greg Asimakoupoulos.  
What have been your top reads of 2013?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fishers of Men (Paraphrase of Chapter 2 of The Training of the 12 by AB Bruce) - part 5

These humble fishermen did not follow Jesus out of boredom. They were hard working, industrious men. They also did not follow Him out of some sense of discontent. They really did not have reason for discontent. The family of James and John seem to have been doing quite well. Mark states that, when called by Jesus, they left their father in the ship with the hired servants.

What about selfish ambition? Did they leave everything to follow Jesus out of ambitious motives? Later in the gospels we do see the disciples display the ugly human desire to become great, but not here. Ambition needs a temptation. It will not join a cause that is obscure or struggling. Ambition usually manifests itself when success is assured. Jesus’ ministry had not reached that stage.

There really is only one explanation for why they followed Jesus. Their hearts were ignited. Their heads were turned by the dream of a divine Kingdom in Israel with Jesus of Nazareth as its King. That dream possessed them and ruled their minds and shaped their destinies. It compelled them, like Abraham, to leave their family and their home, and to go forth on what might have appeared beforehand to be a fool’s errand. How wonderful for us that they were possessed by the idea of this Kingdom! It was not the errand of fools that they left their nets for. The Kingdom turned out to be as real as the promised land although not in the way they had imagined.

These fishermen of Galilee did become fishers of men on the most extensive scale and by the help of God, they gathered many souls to the church and to salvation. In a sense, they are still casting their nets into the world and by their testimony they continue to help multitudes become His disciples.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fishers of Men (Paraphrase of Chapter 2 of The Training of the 12 by AB Bruce) - part 4

We get a glimpse into the spiritual state of the twelve through an early interaction of Peter with Jesus. Pressed by the crowds assembled on the shore of the lake, Jesus entered Peter’s boat and asked him to push out a little from the shore. Jesus sat on the boat and taught the people from the vessel. After He finished speaking, Jesus told Peter, “go out where it is deeper and let down your nets, and you will catch many fish.” Their previous efforts to catch fish had been unsuccessful, but Peter and his brother did what Jesus directed and were rewarded by a miraculous catch. Peter, the most demonstrative of the fishermen, fell down at Jesus feet saying, “depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”.  

This episode opens a window into the spiritual state of Peter. We observe a mixture of good and evil, of grace and nature, which so frequently reappears in his character. Among the good elements we see is the reverential awe in the presence of divine power. Peter also demonstrates a tender conscience and quick repentance.  While these are strong character qualities, they were mixed with a superstitious dread of the power of God. This is what Jesus addressed when he told Peter, “do not fear, from now on you will be catching men”. But this slavish fear is strongly apparent when Peter says, “depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”. Peter’s state of mind demonstrates just how utterly unfit he was at this time to be an apostle of a gospel which magnifies the grace of God even to the worst of sinners. His view of God at this time was not a Christian one, but was entirely legal, even somewhat pagan in its spirit. 

With all of their many imperfections, these humble fishermen of Galilee had one grand and distinguishing virtue: they were energized by a devotion to Jesus and to the divine kingdom that made them capable of any sacrifice. They believed Him who called them and immediately left their nets and followed Him.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fishers of Men (Paraphrase of Chapter 2 of The Training of the 12 by AB Bruce) - part 3

 See Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11 

Because so much depended on the twelve, they had to meet the highest standards. The mirrors designed to reflect the image of Christ must be highly polished! The apostles had to be men of rare spiritual ability. Since they would be required to take the gospel to all nations, they needed to be free of Jewish narrowness and have a love as wide as the world. Jesus was introducing a new spirituality that would supersede the ceremonialism of their day. That new spirituality required that they be freed from the yoke of the law. They needed to be free to proclaim the Cross. Crucifixion, previously regarded as a cruel and shameful punishment, would be lifted up as the hope of the world’s redemption and the symbol of all that is noble and heroic. Therefore its messengers must be superior to all conventional ideas of human and divine dignity and be able to glory in the cross of Christ and willing to bear a cross themselves. The apostolic character needed to combine freedom of conscience, enlarged heart and enlightened mind at the highest level.

The humble fishermen of Galilee had much to learn before they would be able to satisfy these high requirements. When we think of it this way, their time of apprenticeship in Christ’s ministry seems all too short. Yes, they were godly men, but at the time of their call, they were exceedingly ignorant, narrow-minded, superstitious, full of Jewish prejudices, misconceptions and animosities.  They had much to unlearn of what was bad as well as much to learn of what was good. They were also both slow to learn and slow to unlearn. Old beliefs already lodged in their minds made the communication of new spiritual ideas a difficult task. While they were men of good honest heart – good soil – they needed a lot of care from the gardener before they would bear fruit.  They were poor men of humble birth who had not experienced a higher education or much social interaction with people of the learned class.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fishers of Men (Paraphrase of Chapter 2 of The Training of the 12 by AB Bruce) - part 2

 See Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11 

The first act of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was the selection of Capernaum as their place of residence and center of operations. Here two pairs of brothers received their call to be Christ’s witnesses in the world after He had left it. It would be their duty to give the world a faithful account of their Lord’s words and deeds, a fair image of His character and a true reflection of His spirit. People who had been eyewitnesses and servants from the beginning were the only ones to accomplish this task. 

The calls of these disciples all took place in Jesus’ first year of ministry and were given with conscious reference to their eventual apostleship. “Follow Me”, Jesus said to those fishermen, “and I will make you fishers of men”. Those words demonstrate that Jesus wanted not only disciples, but also men He would train to make disciples of others. He was training them to cast the divine net into the sea of the world and to bring to the shore of the divine kingdom a great multitude of believing followers. Both from Christ’s works and His words, it is clear that He attached supreme significance to the training of the twelve. In His prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus speaks of the training He had given these men as if it had been the main focus of His earthly ministry. And in a sense, it really was. The careful, painstaking education of the disciples ensured that the Teacher’s influence on the world would be permanent and that His Kingdom would be founded on the deep and indestructible convictions in the minds of the few, not the shifting sands of the impressions made on the minds of the many.

The Kingdom was introduced into the world like seed cast on the ground and left to grow according to natural laws just as His parables had said it would. We must say though that the doctrine, the works and our understanding of Jesus might have vanished from human memory or become a vague mythical tradition of no historical value and little practical influence without the twelve. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fishers of Men (Paraphrase of Chapter 2 of The Training of the 12 by AB Bruce)

See Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11
There were three clear stages of growth for the twelve in their relationship with Jesus. In the first stage they were simply believers in Him as the Christ and his occasional companions, especially during festive occasions. We can see this in the first four chapters of John, which tell how some of the disciples first became acquainted with Jesus. They are with him at a wedding in Cana, at a Passover celebration in Jerusalem, on a visit to the scene of John the Baptist’s ministry, and on the return journey through Samaria from the south to Galilee. 

The second stage became an uninterrupted journey with Jesus involving a complete or at least habitual abandonment of their occupations. The passages listed above are stories of the disciples entering this second stage of their discipleship. Of the four people named, we recognize Peter, Andrew and John as old acquaintances who had already passed through the first stage of discipleship. We also meet James the brother of John, for the first time. With James, the first and second stages of discipleship may have been blended together. 

The twelve entered on the last and highest stage of discipleship when they were selected by their Master from the mass of his followers and formed into a select band. They were chosen so that they could be trained for the great work of apostleship. This selection probably did not take place until all of the disciples had been with Jesus for some time. From the gospels, it appears that Jesus began at an early period to gather a group of disciples around Himself. This was his strategy to carrying out the work of the divine Kingdom.