WHO ARE YOU FOLLOWING?

Are there people you follow on Twitter? How about on Facebook? Are there one or more blogs you follow? Do you have a favorite baseball team you follow? Are you excited about the beginning of another football season because you have a favorite college or pro team you follow? Is there a favorite TV show you follow? We have many options when it comes to who and what we want to follow, don’t we?

The person I am most interested in following is Jesus. There is nothing wrong with any of the other options mentioned in the first paragraph; it’s just that the most important person to follow is Jesus. And to follow Jesus does not mean we cannot follow someone on Twitter or have a favorite team we follow.

During His ministry Jesus called people to follow Him and explained what that meant. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23 all record Jesus as saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” There is additional important teaching from Jesus that follows this verse, but this verse is the essence of it.

To be Jesus’ disciple is to follow Him—that’s what it means to be a disciple. His first disciples literally followed Him from place to place, but today we do not have that privilege. New Testament and Greek scholar William Barclay suggests a number of ways follow was used in classical Greek that adds to the meaning of following Jesus: among other associations it was used of a soldier following his commander, it was used of slave attending his master, it was used of following or obeying someone’s advice or opinion, and it was used of obeying the law.

In His own words Jesus said to be His disciple requires the denial of oneself. When He adds a follower must “take up one’s cross” He deepens the qualification of denying oneself. Those who first heard Jesus offer this challenge would have understood that taking up one’s cross meant to carry a crossbar to the place of one’s execution by crucifixion. While crucifixion was a reality for some early Christians, taking up the cross for us has to do with self-denial. It means we must completely give ourselves to the Lord and surrender to Him. Only Luke has the added word daily in connection with taking up one’s cross, which tells us it is not something that is done only once but is to be a way of life. The reality is that to follow Jesus often calls us to sacrifice.

Those first disciples who followed Jesus gave up something to follow Him. Peter, Andrew, James, and John gave up their work as fisherman (Mark 1:18 and Luke 5:11). Matthew gave up his lucrative career as a tax collector to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9). We don’t know about the others, but we can be sure they too gave something up. And it seems consistent to conclude that those who follow Jesus today will be expected to give something up in order to do so.

Let’s ask again what we did in the title of this post: who are you following? Or, even more direct, are you following Jesus? Simply appreciating and admiring Jesus will never be enough. We are called to follow Him; and that means a denial of self and a taking up of our cross to do so. How a person responds to Jesus is the most important decision they will ever make.

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post.

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WHICH WAY?

Last Friday driving back to California from Texas by myself I decided to take a different route than we usually take. Since it was a new way for me to return I called my wife, who was still in Texas, to get directions. She checked things out on the internet and got back to me. Following her suggestions I had no problems and got home. She flew back to California on Sunday and driving her home from the airport she asked me, “Which way do you think is better?” It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

In an article I read earlier on Sunday I was reminded that in the book of Acts those who first believed in Jesus were called followers of “the Way.” The designation is found only in the book of Acts, and it is used multiple times with minor variations. Here are some examples:

In Acts 9:2 Christians are described as those who “belonged to the Way.”

In Acts 19:9 unbelievers “maligned the Way.”

In Acts 19:23 “there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”

In Acts 22:4 Paul acknowledged earlier he “persecuted the followers of this Way.”

In Acts 24:14 Paul claims to be “a follower of the Way.”

I agree with F.F. Bruce that the term was originally a self-designation for the early Christians. It seems obvious how and why this label was used. Note in each usage that the definite article the is used rather than the indefinite a. What is being referred to is not “a way” as one of many but rather “the way.”

When I think about this term I cannot help but think about Jesus’ claim in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Note again the usage of the definite article the. There is a sense in which the truth and the life fill the meaning of the way. Jesus Himself makes it clear that He is the way to the Father. And the implication is that because He is the truth, following Him is the only way to live what may be called the life.

Belonging then to “the Way”, being a follower of Jesus, means that we give ourselves to living the kind of life He has called us to live. Jesus’ illustration of the wise and foolish builders at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:24-27) is instructive. The rain, flood, and wind beat upon both the houses of the wise man and the foolish man. The wise man’s house did not fall because its foundation was on the rock—he heard the words of Jesus and put them into practice. But the foolish man’s house fell because his house was built on sand—he heard the words of Jesus but did not put them into practice.

One final thought for your consideration: within the way there must be some room for diversity and flexibility. We are not all the same and not everything about living and life is specifically and narrowly spelled out in the Bible. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what is clear-cut and where there is room for difference of opinion.

My answer to Jan’s question “Which way do you think is better?” in terms of driving from Texas to California was “I’m not sure.” If someone asked me “What is the best way to live?” I would say “Follow the Way of Jesus.” What would you say?

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on social media.

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ARE YOU IN THE BOOK?

An interesting phrase in the Bible that is most often associated with the book of Revelation is “the book of life.” It first occurs in Revelation 3:5, but is also used several more times in the remaining chapters. The Bible’s first reference to such a book, however, is not in Revelation. Both the exact phrase and the basic idea are used in other places in the Bible. Moses seems to be referring to this book in Exodus 32 following the sin of the people worshiping the golden calf while under Aaron’s leadership in Moses’ absence. Upon returning, and after he dealt with the situation, Moses went back to the LORD and asked Him to forgive the people.  In Exodus 32:32, Moses tells God that if He will not forgive the people’s sin, “then blot me out of the book you have written.”

There is also a clear Old Testament reference by David to this book in one of his prayers. In Psalm 69:28 David petitions God concerning his enemies, “May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.”

During His ministry Jesus seemed to be referring to the same idea when a large group of his disciples returned with much excitement after a successful mission outing. Luke 10:20 reports that Jesus told them not to “rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The Apostle Paul knows of this book as well as he refers to it in his letter to the Philippians. Referring to his co-workers at the end of Philippians 4:3, he indicates their “names are in the book of life.” Commentator Ralph Martin suggests this denotes “God’s register of his people.”

The letter to the Hebrews speaks as Jesus did in Luke 10:20 referring “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (12:23). Commentator Donald Guthrie suggests that both this reference, as well as Jesus’ usage in Luke 12:20, refer to those who are “enrolled in heaven.”

Speaking about the one who is victorious, in Revelation 3:5 Jesus promises “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life.” John writes in Revelation 13:8 that those who worship the beast are “all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life” (cf. Revelation 17:8). Revelation 20:12 and 15 have references to “the book of life” and Revelation 21:27 makes it clear that “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will enter the New Jerusalem.

What are we to make of these references in the Bible to “the book of life” and “names written in heaven”? The book of life is apparently a list of names of those who will spend eternity in heaven with God. New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger gives us some insight when he notes, “In ancient cities the names of citizens were kept in registers and were erased upon death or the commission of a treasonous act” (Breaking the Code: Understanding the book of Revelation, Abingdon Press, 1993, p. 40). These biblical references raise two doctrinal issues that have been controversial and debated for many years.

One of the issues is called the perseverance of the saints or eternal security. The question raised in this connection concerns whether a person who has been saved can ever lose his or her salvation. Moses suggests that salvation can be lost when he tells God that if He is unwilling to forgive the people, he would like God to blot him out. David suggests his enemies can be lost when he asks God to blot them out of the book of life. And in Revelation 3:5 Jesus says He will not blot out the name of the one who is victorious implying that the name of one who is not victorious may be blotted out.

I certainly do not believe God has a pencil with an eraser that He uses to write names in the book of life and then to erase (blot) them out, perhaps only to write them back in later. I believe Christians can have complete assurance that they are saved and going to be with the Lord when they pass from this life. However, I would not guarantee that a once believer who turned his or her back on the Lord, repudiated her or his faith, and lived a totally unchristian life would be saved. I believe a Christian can and should live with complete confidence, assured of salvation through faith in Christ.

A second issue is raised in the great white throne judgment scene of Revelation 20. In verse 12 we are told “books were opened” and after that “the book of life.” The verse concludes with “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” What is the place of works, both good and bad, in a believer’s life? At first reading this report may suggest to some a contradiction to the clear teaching in the New Testament that one is saved by grace through faith and not by their good works. If we look closely at the entire verse I do not believe we will conclude Revelation 20:12 teaches salvation by works. We should keep in mind that there are not only books that contain what people have done and by which they are judged, but also “the book of life.” Allow me to make a few observations.

For one thing, it may very well be that it is only the lost who are judged by what they have done that is recorded in the books. If that is the case, then the saved are not judged according to what is in the books, but are saved because their names are in the book of life. And they are in the book of life, of course, because of their faith in Jesus.

I think Robert Mounce makes an important point when he asserts, “The issue is not salvation by works but works as the irrefutable evidence of a man’s [sic] actual relationship with God” (The Book of Revelation, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977, p.366). A believer demonstrates her or his faith by the things he or she does and does not do (works). And the opening of the books provides the evidence of the faith of the saved. But, going back to the matter of assurance of salvation, the reason a Christian can be assured of his or her salvation is because we are saved by grace through faith.

My sense is that in an overreaction to the false understanding of salvation by good works, some Christians underestimate the importance of godly living in the Christian life. We do not do good works and avoid bad works in order to be saved, we avoid bad works and do good works because we are saved and have faith.

One final observation about the books: “The opening of the books suggest that our earthly lives are important and meaningful, and are taken into account at the end” (Metzger p. 97). My professor of theology at Cincinnati Christian Seminary, Jack Cottrell, taught that there will be degrees of reward in heaven and these books (our works as believers) will be a part of that determination.

I don’t know if a person can be saved and have their name in the book of life only later to have it blotted out. Strong advocates of eternal security would say that a believer who turned his or her back on the Lord was never really saved to begin with. I have an opinion, but I don’t know if there will be degrees of reward for the saved in heaven.

I do know that the New Testament teaches that we are not saved by our good works but by grace through our faith in Jesus. I also know that followers of Jesus show their faith and their relationship with the Lord by the way they live—not that they are perfect, but they are walking with Him. Finally, I have every confidence that my name is written in the book of life; not because I am good enough, but because I have put my faith in Jesus. I hope your name is in the book as well and that you confident of it.

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on social media.

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MORE ON GETTING OLDER AND AGING

A few weeks ago I wrote a post in which I commented on several books that deal with getting older, retirement, and aging. If you did not read that post, or would like to review it, here is the link https://bobmmink.com/2016/07/13/getting-older-retirement-and-aging/ .

After I wrote that post I ordered a book highly recommended by R. Paul Stevens (author of Aging Matters). Written by Eugene C. Bianchi and originally published in 1982, the title Aging as a Spiritual Journey captured my attention. I would not say this book is better than either Stevens’ Aging Matters or Tournier’s Learn to Grow Old, but I did want to give a report on it as well as share a few salient quotes.

Aging as a Spiritual Journey has six chapters dealing with the two stages of midlife and elderhood. Chapter one is about the challenges of midlife, chapter two about the potentials of midlife, and chapter three discusses reflections from interviews about midlife. Chapter four is about the challenges of elderhood, chapter five about the potentials of elderhood, and chapter six discusses reflections from interviews about elderhood.

The author broadly defines midlife as the life span from about forty to sixty years of age and elderhood as beginning after age 60. Bianchi’s basic premise is that “middle and late adulthood present opportunities for combining the physical descent or gradual organic diminution with a spiritual ascent” (p. 7). At the age of 65 I don’t feel as though I have reached old age, but I think there is much for us to glean from his observations about both the challenges as well as potentials of midlife and elderhood no matter one’s current age.

I am not necessarily recommending you get and read the book, but I hope what follows will give readers something to think about. For those who are interested in this subject and the issues, this book, as well as the ones previously mentioned, all have a contribution to make.

Selected quotes from Aging as a Spiritual Journey by Eugene C. Bianchi:

“. . . the central issue of middle age is the loss of youth . . .”

“Too often in the aging process we settle for reminiscing rather than creating new memories.”

“For many persons in midlife, therefore, basic self-identity is called into question.”

“Those who cling to the dreams of youth against the reality of midlife tend to lull themselves into a life of illusion. . . .  They miss, therefore, taking advantage of the unique opportunity that midlife offers for deeper growth.”

“It is important to consider the matter of flexibility, because midlife is also the time when many persons become more rigid in their attitudes.”

“Midlife transitions provide the opportunity to move intimate relationships and friendships to deeper levels.”

“For deeper spiritual development the aging need to confront their true feelings about their physical decline.”

“The sometimes unique problems of elderhood are also fraught with potential for growth in spiritual life.”

“For many persons, old age is a time for experiencing losses and diminishments that deep affect basic self-image.”

“Changes in economic and social structures significantly affect the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the elderly.”

“While everyone experiences some loneliness at any age, we do not give sufficient attention to the social factors that accentuate an especially acute loneliness for the old.”

“As grandparents, the elderly fulfill an important role for future generations. . . .  In the best situations, grandparents become models for meeting life’s problems with grace, wisdom, and courage.”

“The mere state of being elderly confers no special wisdom or talent.”

“A primary task for older people is to divest themselves of negative stereotypes of what it means to be old.”

“. . . for the elderly self to sustain its dignity in a profound way, the issue of death must be faced.”

“. . . growth through diminishment, based on a willingness to encounter the inner demons of old age with faith, can lead to authentic joy even amid hardships.”

“A final task of elderhood consists of finding healing and forgiveness by reviewing one’s life and preparing proximately for death.”

Leave a reply or ask a question below and/or share this report on social media if you think others would benefit.

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A 37 YEAR BATTLE CONTINUES

Last week an online Christianity Today Meditation entitled “The Gift of My Anxiety” got my attention and prompted this blog post. In the article author Laura Turner tells about her lifelong relationship with fear that began when she was four or five years old. She acknowledges “mostly I fear the future” and reveals “try as I might, I can’t get rid of it.” To my surprise she not only calls her anxiety a gift, she says “every bout of anxiety has driven me closer to God,” “persistent fear has kept me tethered to God,” and “If I could snap my fingers and be rid of my anxiety, I wouldn’t.”

I too battle anxiety. My first bout came on totally unexpected and for no reason when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in my late 20s. I had never experienced it before that evening and there was nothing specific I was afraid of or concerned about. I was just overcome with anxiety and I have battled it on and off since then.

Through the years I have read widely and deeply about anxiety, consulted with counselors, and tried a variety of medications. Most of the time I have no anxiety, but there are times when I do have it—ranging from mild to somewhat debilitating. For the most part the only sure predictor for me is when I am preparing to travel by air—the intensity grows on the way to the airport, waiting to get on the plane, and then peaks as we board. Once we get to where we are going I am usually fine.

Experts report that while both women and men deal with the issue, women are more likely to deal with the problem than men. I guess that means I am deeper and more sensitive than most guys! My self-diagnosis is that my anxiety is neurotic and irrational and is technically called Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Unlike Laura Turner’s report, as best as I can tell, my anxiety isn’t really about the future. Nor do I see it as a gift; and if I could snap my fingers and be rid of it I would in a second. Of course I pray about it and do my best to trust and lean on the Lord, but I don’t see how it has driven me closer to God or kept me tethered to Him. I think I’m tethered and close to Him with or without the anxiety.

I think Laura Turner’s Meditation is informative and worth reading. I agree with her on the helpfulness of sharing your anxiety issue with someone. On more than one occasion when I have been with a friend and anxiety has come upon me it has been lessened by telling my colleague about it. Not only that, occasionally as others hear about my anxiety they are encouraged to learn someone besides them struggles with it. That’s my primary reason for writing about my anxiety in this blog. If you deal with anxiety perhaps you will be relieved to know there are others too.

Share this post on social media if you think others would benefit and feel free to leave a reply below or send me an email (bobmmink@gmail.com).

Here’s the link if you would like to read Laura Turner’s Meditation: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/julaug/gift-of-my-anxiety-ear.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=15819991&utm_content=454389237&utm_campaign=email

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