SECRET DISCIPLES?

In the book JESUS AMONG FRIENDS AND ENEMIES (edited by Chris Keith and Larry Hurtado) there is a chapter in the friends part titled “Secret Disciples.” David M. Allen presents a thoughtful discussion of two interesting characters in the biblical record: the two Jewish leaders Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Allen suggests the night visit of Nicodemus to Jesus (John 3:2) indicates “someone who is potentially sympathetic to Jesus but unwilling to express that publically” (p.158).  Citing John 19:38, Allen suggests Joseph of Arimathea became a “secret disciple, one who wishes to be associated with Jesus, but seemingly not in public.” (p. 167).

When I first saw the chapter title “Secret Disciples,” and still as I think about it now, I’m not sure a person can be a secret disciple. The terms sounds like a contradiction to me. The purpose of this post is not to criticize what Allen has written. His chapter is carefully researched and written, well worth reading. I want to use his essay to challenge and stimulate our thinking.

The New Testament seems to teach that the very nature of being a disciple means one has declared allegiance to Jesus. For example, in Matthew 10:32 Jesus promised, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used two metaphors to describe His followers that contradict the idea of being a secret disciple. While neither “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) nor “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16) demands a confession as such, it’s not easy to reconcile how a person could be both salt and light as a secret disciple. A Christian’s witness as salt and light does not have to be overt, but both do speak to a disciple’s influence.

One of my favorite New Testament teachings on this subject is in I Peter 3:15b, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The instruction to be prepared to respond when asked about one’s faith suggests the believer’s lifestyle has created interest. Similar to the images of salt and light, living with an obvious hope that others take note of does not have to be overt. But equally important to the instruction of I Peter 3:15b is the manner in which the writer tells us we are to answer. I Peter 3:15c cautions, “But do this with gentleness and respect.” Too often Christians acknowledge Jesus before others and answer questions about their hope and faith without gentleness and respect. With gentleness and respect calls us not to be arrogant, or condescending, or combative, or judgmental.

To be potentially sympathetic to Jesus but unwilling to express that publically, or to wish to be associated with Jesus but not in public, hardly gives a person the opportunity to acknowledge Him, to be the salt of the earth or the light of the world, or to live in such a way that one would be asked the reason for his or her hope.

I have often told the story of a little boy answering the door with his mutt dog when a door to door salesman knocked. Trying to create goodwill, the salesman noted the dog and asked, “What kind of dog is that?” The boy proudly answered, “He’s a police dog.” Puzzled, the salesman remarked, “He doesn’t look like a police dog.” The boy responded, “He’s in the secret service.” There very well may be unique situations when it would be necessary to be a secret disciple; but generally speaking a secret disciple is an oxymoron.

What do you think?

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THE LOSS OF A FAMILY MEMBER

Jan and I lost a wonderful family member this past Saturday. Even though we knew it was coming, we are sad. She was 81, and had been diagnosed with terminal cancer several months ago. After Easter we traveled to Cincinnati and spent a few days with her while she was still alert and active. (The picture above is from that visit.)

Pat was special to us for a variety of reasons. She and Jan’s dad were married after Jan’s mom passed away over 34 years ago. She was a great partner for my father-in-law all those years, enriching his life until the end. As we would expect, at the age of 94 he is deeply wounded and filled with grief.

When my father-in-law married Pat our family immediately expanded. Pat had two daughters and a son; Jan’s dad had two sons and a daughter. Although Jan and her two brothers were gone, Pat’s two daughters (one still in high school) lived with them. Jan and I, her brothers, and Pat’s children and spouses all became family.

Jan and I never felt or thought of Pat as a step-mother; and I’m confident she never thought of Jan or her brothers as step-children. Nor did Jan’s dad ever consider Pat’s girls or son step-children. Having lived with them for a few years, Jan’s dad especially loved her girls and they loved him.

Pat took great interest in our two children and grandchildren as well as Jan’s nephews and niece. She was a real grandmother to our children and great-grandmother to our grandsons. Both our daughter and son are disappointed they cannot travel to Cincinnati to celebrate her life and mourn her loss with the rest of the family. I too am sorry I am not able to join them.

It was always great to visit Pat and Jan’s dad because of her gift and love of hospitality. She wanted everything to be perfect for us. Some of my favorite memories are our visits with them in Tucson during several winters. When in Cincinnati I sometimes felt guilty going out to lunch with friends or going to Skyline Chili because she always loved feeding us.

Pat Kissell was a woman who loved her family and friends and was deeply loved by them. The past few months have been difficult for many of us as we supported and encouraged her and each other through her final journey. As I have said to so many through the years who have lost loved ones, we will never get over our loss.

As I write this tribute the number one movie in our nation is Wonder Women. As a member of her extended family, I join with the rest of the family in thanking God for and grieving the passing of our Wonder Woman: Pat Kissell.

Please join me in praying for Pat’s family, for my wife Jan as she travels, and for Pat’s husband/Jan’s dad Bill.

 

 

THAT’S WHY WE’RE HERE

Several times since my wife and I moved to Texas something has happened that prompted one of us to say “That’s why we’re here.” We relocated to help our daughter, who has a full time job, with our two grandsons–ages 7 and 3. We talked and thought about moving for over a year, and finally pulled the trigger this past December. The past six months have proven to be even better than we imagined as we have become a vital part of the daily lives of our daughter and grandsons.

Their dog became ill and needed to be taken to the vet. Jan volunteered and said “that’s why we’re here.” Our younger grandson got strep throat and I stayed home with him one day. I told my daughter “that’s why we’re here.” Jan does so much around our daughter’s house that I have occasionally complained only to be reminded “that’s why we’re here.” It was my privilege to help coach our older grandson’s little league baseball team. One time the coach told me I didn’t have to carry the equipment, but I told him “that’s why we’re here.” I won’t bore you with more examples–I think you get the point.

As important as being fully engaged as grandparents is, there is more. On multiple occasions our new pastor has suggested to us that God had a reason for bringing us to our new church. We’re not yet totally sure what that is, but I have already preached on two weekends and we are talking about other ways I can serve. Not only are we plugging into our new church, I have had a variety of opportunities in other venues to preach, teach, and serve. I am especially excited to fill the position of teaching the Bible class at Amarillo High School beginning this fall.

Through the years I have often been asked by people who were discouraged or depressed or seriously ill, “Why am I still here?” Occasionally I have offered a reason or two, but I think it is better when I ask what they think the reason is. It is not always obvious, but there are reasons why all of us are where we are. The challenge, of course, is to realize there are reasons, explore what they may be, and then fulfill them.

The Texas Panhandle is the fourth place Jan and I have lived in the 43 years we have been married. There was a reason we lived on the west side of Cincinnati and I was youth pastor at Bridgetown Church of Christ for almost five years. There was reason we moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia and I was pastor of Delaware Valley Church of Christ for almost 10 years. There was a reason we moved to Moreno Valley, California, and I was the founding pastor of Discovery Christian Church where we stayed for 30 years.

As hard as it was to leave Southern California, we have not regretted our move to Texas. There is a reason we are here and we know at least in part what that reason is. And we look forward to realizing other reasons why we’re here.

Why are you where you are?

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THAT HURT!

Has anyone ever said something to you that hurt your feelings? Has anyone ever said something about you to someone else that was relayed to you that hurt? I sure have—many times, but mercifully, only a few I remember. I was reminded of the power of our words (and actions) to hurt others last week as I spoke with one friend who had been deeply hurt by the words of another friend.

The next day in my Bible reading I came across this in Ecclesiastes 8:9 (NIV), “All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own [or to their] hurt.” Intrigued, I checked a few other translations:

New Living Translation: “I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other.”

New Revised Standard Version: “All this I observed, applying my mind to all that is done under the sun while one person exercises authority over another to the other’s hurt.”

Contemporary English Version: “I noticed all this and thought seriously about what goes on in the world. Why does one person have the power to hurt another?”

The Message: “All this I observed as I tried my best to understand all that’s going on in this world. As long as men and women have the power to hurt each other, this is the way it is.”

I am no expert in the Hebrew language, but I think this verse includes not only physical hurt, but also hurting others with our words. Taking a cue from the biblical writer, I too gave serious thought to what my friend had shared with me the previous day. I was hurt because she was hurt and disappointed by what my other friend had said and done to her.

Earlier I said I have been hurt by both what others have said to me and by what others have said about me that got back to me. Equally important, however, if not more important, is the truth that I have said things to people that have hurt them as well as things to others about people that got back to them and hurt them. The purpose of this post is not just to alert and challenge readers about this matter, but also for me to confess my guilt in this area and commit to doing better myself. I am not referring to having fun teasing someone with no intention to hurt–however, we do need to be aware that sometimes our teasing hurts those we tease (especially when we go too far with it).

I think it also needs to be said that there are times when it is appropriate to hurt a friend with our words. Proverbs 27:6 (NIV) informs us, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Wounds hurt, but sometimes our friends need to wound us with their words for our own good. It has never been pleasant, and I certainly don’t like it, but I am grateful for the times in my life when friends have appropriately wounded me with the goal of helping me. Even though it is meant to be helpful, and perhaps even necessary, a real friend will never delight in wounding a friend even when it is needed.

Back to being hurt by the words of someone, how should we respond? I have three suggestions for our consideration:

Try not to be defensive. It’s easier said than done, but try to let it roll off your back. Sometimes it may be helpful to set the record straight, but generally speaking ignoring it is probably best.

Try not to strike back. I’m confident the person who hurts us with words has shortcoming and faults we could attack, but for the most part escalation will not prove to be helpful.

Try not to be overly sensitive. Again, it is easier said than done–and I know because I am often overly sensitive to such things. But in the end, being overly sensitive just compounds our hurt.

To conclude these thoughts, here are two more verses from the book of Proverbs to contemplate:

Proverbs 12:18 (NLT), “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”

Proverbs 15:4 (NLT), “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

Lord,

Forgive me for hurting others with my words and help me do better. Empower me to appropriately respond to those who hurt me with their words. Guide me in knowing when and how to wound a friend for his or her own good. May my words encourage and build up others as well as honor and praise you.

Amen

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THE OTHER SIDE OF EASTER

In this fifth week after Easter I’m thinking about what took place after Jesus’ resurrection. The Gospels tell us that for 40 days Jesus appeared several times to his followers to encourage and instruct them. He appeared to Mary Magdalene Sunday morning (John 20:11-18), to two unnamed disciples in the afternoon (Luke 24:13-35), and to 10 of the apostles that evening (John 20:19 and 20). The following Sunday he appeared to the 11 apostles, this time including Thomas who was absent the week before (John 20:24-28). Later he appeared to seven of his disciples by the Sea of Galilee after which he restored Peter who had denied him (John 21:1-19). In I Corinthians 15:6 the Apostle Paul reports Jesus appeared “to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at the same time.”

After 40 days Jesus concluded these appearances with an important act that is rarely emphasized by his followers today: he ascended (returned) to heaven. Even though it is rarely emphasized, Ascension Day is on the church calendar on the sixth Thursday after Easter—the 40th day of Easter, this year on May 25. Jesus’ ascension is important in the New Testament—so much so that Luke reports it twice: at the end of his gospel in Luke 24:49-53 and at the beginning of the book of Acts in 1:9-11. Jesus’ exalted status seated at God’s right following his ascension is also important and frequently mentioned (Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3, and others).

Those familiar with the Apostle’s Creed will remember the reference to Jesus’ ascension in it: He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. What are we to make of this part of the classic statement of the Christian faith often recited in many churches?

One thing we should realize is that the ascension marked the end of the resurrected Jesus’ appearances to his followers. Acts 1:9 reports “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” During the 40 days of his appearances he would appear and disappear, but this time was different. He had accomplished what he came to do and returned to the Father. The creed’s affirmation that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” summarizes the teaching of the New Testament.

The descriptive words of both Jesus’ “ascending to heaven” and being “seated at the right hand of the Father” are symbolic. One theologian warns us “It is important to realize that the ascension is not making a statement about cosmology and how to find heaven on an astronomical map” (Michael Bird). Another theologian suggests the imagery of being seated at the right hand of God means he has returned “to the close presence, power and majesty of his Father” (Alister McGrath).

Jesus returned to heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father, but that does not mean he is absent from our world or us. Nor, in the words of James Bryan Smith, does it “mean he is up in heaven taking a long nap.”

In Matthew 18:20 Jesus promised “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” And in John 14:18 he told his apostles “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The primary way Jesus is still with us today is through the Holy Spirit he promised following his ascension.

Ascended and sitting at the Father’s right hand, Jesus has been given absolute sovereignty. New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger put it this way: “That Christ ascended and now sits at the right hand of God means that he lives and rules with all the authority and power of God himself.”

Jesus is also talking to the Father about us. In Romans 8:34 the Apostle Paul writes Christ Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” The writer of Hebrews affirms as our high priest Jesus “always lives to intercede for those who come to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25).

To conclude this post let’s return to the account of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1. After “a cloud hid him from [the Apostles’] sight” and “they were looking intently up into the sky” a couple of angels asked them why they were looking into the sky. Then the angels affirmed, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus will return!

In Philippians 2:9-11, after talking about Jesus’ death on the cross, the Apostle Paul takes his readers from the ascension to the second coming, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

(The title of this post was borrowed from my pastor, Jim Shelburne of Washington Avenue Christian Church.)

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WHO ARE YOUR FRIENDS?

Since I moved in December from California to Texas I have been thinking on and off about this matter of friends. Having lived in the same city and house for 32 years, when I left California I left the place of many friends I had there. I knew I would miss seeing those friends, and was concerned about the path of meeting and making new friends in my new location.

From the outset of arriving in Amarillo I was impressed by the friendliness of almost everyone. Obviously friendliness does not automatically translate to friends, but it was encouraging to me as a newcomer. I was somewhat surprised last week when I realized in multiple conversations I referred to someone I was talking with as “my friend.”

The designation “friend” has a wide range of meanings. Not every acquaintance is necessarily a friend, even though we appreciate them. Most of us have “friends” on Facebook we hardly know, but in that context they are friends. I’m intrigued by the designations “good friend,” “close friend,” and “best friend.”

The depth or level of our friendships generally vary based upon the time we spend with them. Even though I still consider them good friends, because of my move I am not as close to my friends in California as I was when I lived there. And because they were and are good friends, I miss them.

I have made and am making friends in my new city. It takes and will take time, but I am positive and making progress. You do not quickly become “good friends” with someone, but friendship grows as you spend time together.

Hopefully it will not surprise anyone to read that my best friend is my wife, Jan. And our friendship has grown through our move and our settling into our new city and home. Our move has also allowed my friendship with our daughter to intensify as I see her daily, but I miss seeing our son every day. As good as it is, talking on the phone or on Facetime is not the same as being present.

As I think about this matter of friends I am reminded of how valuable and important they are—at all levels. One of the best things about Facebook is that it allows us to connect with and stay in touch with friends all the way back to childhood and all over the world. I so appreciate interacting with friends from high school, college, my youth ministries, my time in Philadelphia, and my years in California. I am thankful for all the friends I have had and still have as well as the new friends I am making in Texas.

Here are three verses from the book of Proverbs for your contemplation:

Proverbs 17:17a, “A friend loves at all times.”

Proverbs 18:24, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

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A PICTURE OF CONSISTENCY

This article was written almost 19 years ago the morning I learned of my mother’s death. It is also included in Chapter 12, Preacher’s Pen Columns, in my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters. I am posting it this week in honor of Mother’s Day this coming Sunday.

July 1, 1998

I received a phone call this morning that my mom had passed away.  I’m not sure of the details yet, but apparently she died last night in her sleep.  Although we knew it was coming, we weren’t expecting it quite so soon.  I was hoping and praying she would make it until our family got there to visit in August, but it wasn’t to be.  And I’m okay with that.

My mom has fought her last battle; and I don’t view it as a loss.  Throughout her life she fought numerous battles.  All of us do, of course, but it seems like she fought more than most people do.  And she was a courageous and persistent battler.  She often had reasons to quit; but she was not a quitter.  And in her death I’m sure she did not quit; but it was time to move on.

If in his life my dad was a trophy of God’s grace, then my mom was a picture of consistency.  She was always there.  From as far back as I can remember until this past Sunday when we spoke with her she was there.  She was there caring and praying and doing what she could to help and make things better.  I guess that’s the primary role of a mother.

At times like this it’s common to think about things you didn’t do or say that it’s too late now to say or do.  There’s much in that category for me, but I also think there was an understanding between my mother and me that went beyond words.  Anyway, I sure hope that was true.

I am disappointed that I will not be able to visit her as we had planned later this summer, but I am pleased she is no longer suffering and worrying.  She feared becoming more and more incapacitated and lingering in pain.  I am thankful that is not the case.

More than that, and not speculating on what God has in store for us, I’m blessed to know that she is now with my dad.  None of us know the details of heaven, but we do know it is a reality for those who accept God’s gift in Jesus.  She sorely missed dad; and it’s a blessing to know that even though she is gone from us, she is where he is.

Knowing mom as I did, I doubt that even in heaven she will be able to completely quit worrying about my brother and me and her grandchildren.  But I hope that in light of her new surroundings and situation she can at least worry less.

Good bye mom.  I’ll bet it’s easier for you to pray for us now than it’s ever been.  I love you.

–Bob

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