FOLLOWING JESUS

Following Jesus

Musings on a “strange” Christmas
By Neil Smith
Olympic Peninsula Ministries, Sequim, Washington
December, 2009

At the conclusion of my freshman year in college I was a beginning Christ follower and was attending my first Christian student conference. I was excited to learn from the teachers who would be there.

Our car full of students arrived in southern California a day early so I spent much of it beside the swimming pool. The only thing I remember from that week is what happened there. While basking in the sun another student approached me and gave me a religious tract.

I never responded well to such tracts, but dutifully read this one. Its title asked the question: “What does it profit a man?” Inside, the author quoted a passage describing Absalom’s predicament when his father, King David, allowed him to return to Jerusalem from exile, but forbade him to come into the palace to visit him.

The pamphlet’s author asked, “What does it profit a man if he lives in Jerusalem (as Absalom did) but never sees the King’s (David’s) face?” He then probed us with, “What does it profit us if we are Christians, but don’t fellowship with Jesus Christ?”

Obviously, I never forgot that! God has used it often to remind me that at the heart of the Christian faith is an actual, vibrant relationship with Christ. Christian activity without communion with God leads to tiredness, not joy.

What triggered this memory was my musing on the manner in which Mark begins his gospel. In contrast to Matthew and Luke there is no birth narrative. Neither does he begin with a theological discourse like John’s gospel.

Mark’s introduction is brief, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah”. Mark’s was the earliest gospel, and it may have been the first occasion in literature when the term “gospel” (or “good news,” as in the translation above) was linked to Jesus. Mark’s first century readers would have thought immediately of an imperial edict from Rome.

“Good news” was very often used when referring to a military victory by the empire and “joy” was the emotional state always accompanying the term, “good news.”

Imagine Mark as he pens his gospel. I bet he couldn’t sit still in excitement. The “joy-bringing” good news he invites us to contemplate with him isn’t about an event, but a Being. He doesn’t announce a victory, but introduces a person. “Jesus” is His name. A common name of the day, for after all, he is a real human being. Yet in that name His secret identity is also revealed.

“Jesus” means “God liberates and rescues”. That’s who He is and what He’s done. If Mark has it right, there had never been better news in the entire history of this globe we call home. Never!

Many of the ancient Greek manuscripts have Mark concluding this introductory sentence with the additional words “the Son of God,” thus identifying Jesus unambiguously. Whether they belong in the text or not, we are certain of Mark’s intent.

The climax of his portrait of Jesus is in the words of a hardened Roman centurion who had overseen many crucifixions. His astonished reaction to watching Jesus die was: “Surely this man was the Son of God” ( Mark 15:39 ).

This is the same title used at the commencement and conclusion of Mark’s account. There’s no question in Mark’s mind about who Christ is!

Staggering, hey! The hymn writer, Charles Wesley, said it this way: “Our God contracted to a span (18 inches), incomprehensibly made man.” Pastor and popular author Eugene Peterson describes Jesus’ birth as: “God moving into our neighborhood.”

Who could have ever even imagined? God actually became a human being. Walked this planet. Knew — and still knows — our pain. There was nothing token about this at all. In Jesus, God joined Himself to our race forever! No wonder Mark chose the joy-permeated word “gospel” to introduce Jesus to us. The angels concurred at Jesus’ birth, saying to the shepherds it’s the “good news of a great joy.”

This is a strange Christmas day for Melanie and me. Our children, Jared, Jonathan, Lydia and Chiara are not with us. A first. It’s made me very aware that it is people, not presents, that create the joy of Christmas and there’s only One who produces a joy that wells up within us day following day and year after year. So in all our doing this year, let’s seek Jesus as our chief aim. After all, “What does it profit us to be Christians and not know Christ?”

New Testament principles regarding
the use of money (including tithes)
By Gary A. Williams

By Raelene Williams, for House of Providence Lenten Series, Vancouver, Washington

Scripture: John 19:19-22

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross.  It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Reflection:

There are many languages spoken in the daily culture of our world.  We are the living translations of the message that Jesus is “The King of the Jews and King of our Lives.”  How do we live in a way that can be understood by the Aramaic, Latin and Greek speakers in our families, neighborhoods and workplace.

We need to learn a language that to begin with is very foreign.  It is only through reading, reflecting and interacting with other language students that we can learn all the nuances of the language of God’s word.  We also have to become bilingual and spend time learning the languages of others so we can easily translate the lessons that God is teaching us.

As we become living translations, God is able to find many ways to say of our lives,

“What I have written I have written.”

Prayer:

God as I grow to learn your language of love for people of all languages,
help me to be aware and act on the opportunities you place in my daily life to translate for you.

Action:

Take time to reflect on the people in your life that could use a word of encouragement and reach out in a practical way to translate the message of God’s love for one of them.


By Raelene Williams for House of Providence, Vancouver, Washington

 

Scripture:  John 19:4-6

And Pilate came out again, and said to them, see, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.  So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, Behold, the man!  When the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, Crucify him, crucify him!  Pilate said to them, Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.

Reflection:

The last question Pilate asked Jesus is “what is truth?”  Did Pilate understand the truth that Jesus shared with him?  If he did, shouldn’t he have done more to save Jesus, the man, from what we know is to come?  If Pilate had released Jesus, the events over the next hours and days would have been very different. Consider an answer to these questions – How does God weave the actions of people who are not aware of his truth into the fabric of a believer’s life?  As a Christ follower, how do you know when and how to take action when it’s hard to see the outcome as being within the truth of God?  What does it look like to be used of God in our everyday circumstances and trust God to control the outcome which may be very different than we expect? In “My Utmost For His Highest” Oswald Chambers guides us to a few conclusions  –   “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so that you will never be surprised at what you come across.  Are we partakers of Christ’s sufferings?  Are we prepared for God to stamp our personal ambitions right out?  Are we prepared for God to destroy by transfiguration our individual determinations?  We never realize at the time what God is putting us through; we go through it more or less misunderstandingly; then we come to a luminous place, and say-“Why, God has girded me, though I did not know it!”

Prayer:

Lord, as I travel through the daily activities of life,
help me to hear your still small voice when you speak to me through strangers, family or friends.
Help me to listen to your spirit as you guide me so that it will not be my will but yours that is in control.

Action:

Record some of the people and experiences God has placed in your life in unexpected ways.  Spend a few minutes talking to Him about these “girded” times.