Treasure

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Matthew 6:19–21 (NLT) Teaching about Money and Possessions

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

Money is one of those topics that we are loath to talk about in church.  Yet Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than almost any other topic.  Why is that?

I heard Larry Burkett, a financial consultant and author of many books on financial wellness, say on his radio program Money Matters that he could tell where your heart was based on looking at your checkbook.  Your checkbook tells you what is really important to you.  Apart from the money that you spend on housing, food and clothing, the necessities of life, how do you spend your discretionary income?  Do you tithe to your church?  Or do you just give what you have in your pocket when you show up?  Do you only give a token offering in church?

Jesus tells the story of a widow, who came to the offering plate at the Temple in Jerusalem.  As Jesus watched the wealthy give out of their abundance, out of their wealth, a poor widow approached the collection box and dropped in 2 small coins.  The 2 lepta were the smallest of coins, like 2 cents.  But Jesus praised her saying, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them.  For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she poor as she is, has given everything she has.”  (Luke 21:1-4)

When I was a child, my mother would give my sisters and I some small coins to give in the offering plate.  I think it was a dime or maybe a quarter – some small coin that we could be sure to have something to give in the offering at Sunday School.  Now you have to understand that we were very poor growing up.  But we made sure to put that in the offering plate.  It was an important lesson.  Giving something, even if it was only a small coin helped us to get into the habit of giving.

When I grew older and had my own income from the part-time work after school, I made sure to start tithing from my income – givng a tenth of whatever I had.  The less I made the easier it was to give that tenth.  The more money I made, and the more bills I had in my life, tithing became harder.  After all I had a family to support!  Yet I have never regretted it, even when it was difficult.

It’s not about the amount that we give.  It’s about the attitude of our heart.  The Bible says elsewhere, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  Paul wrote to the church in Corinth encouraging them to give to needy Christians in Jerusalem, “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop.  But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.  You must decide in your heart how much to give.  And dob’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure.  “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

The concept of storing up treasures in heaven was a common image for the 1st Century Jews.  The teachers of the Law spoke about obedience to the Law as virtually equivalent to accumulating treasures with God.  Jesus had something different in mind.  In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus may have been thinking about demonstrating love to others through acts of charity.

John Wesley preached on this passage (Sermon 28:  Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount:  Discourse 8) said, “But how do the Christians observe what they profess to receive as a command of the most high God?  Not at all!  not in any degree; no more than if no such command had ever been given to man.  Even the good Christians, as they are accounted by others as well as themselves, pay no manner of regard thereto.”  Not much has changed since Wesley’s day.

Wesley said that we are not forbidden to provide for ourselves and our families to pay our bills, and to provide the necessities of life:  food, clothing, and shelter.  Nor are we forbidden to save money for the future, to pay for insurance, etc.

But what about storing up wealth?  There are some people who have received the gift of a fortune, either through their own cleverness in business or by inheritance.  Wesley said, that the laying up of these treasures on earth is absolutely forbidden for the Christian.  So the wealthy person must use their earthly treasure to gain treasure in heaven through good works – works of charity.

Wesley famously said, “Earn all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can.”  Wesley himself earned a fortune in his life through the sale of his books.  Yet he gave the bulk of it away living only on the small amount that he needed for his annual salary.  He said that if he died with more than 5 pounds in his pocket (about $10) than he would be a failure.  And in fact, he died with less than 5 pounds to his name having given it all away.

How about you?  Where is your treasure stored?

Why Are You Still Standing Here?

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Ascension Sunday commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven.  The Ascension of Jesus took place in the presence of His disciples 40 days after the Resurrection. It is traditionally thought to have occurred on Mount Olivet in Bethany. According to the gospel writers Jesus was lifted up disappearing into the sky before their eyes.

Ascension, according to the biblical witness, refers not only to the literal “being lifted upwards” but also to a theological reality of Christ’s new status of exaltation.  Exaltation describes Christ’s return to the throne of God:

Ephesians 1:19–22 (NLT) I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.

What is the significance of the Ascension?  What does it mean to Jesus?  And what does it mean to us?

Jesus commanded the disciples to wait: “Don’t leave Jerusalem until the Father sends the gift he promised, as I told you before.  John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

What does the ascension mean for us?

Presence

Power

Posture

Presence: We are invited to experience a profound intimacy with the Father through the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 4:4–7 (NLT) But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.* And because we* are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”* Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.* And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

Power: We receive power and authority even in the midst of the evil and suffering of this world.

1 Corinthians 1:24 (NLT) But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles,* Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Posture: We assume the posture of intercession on behalf of others in need.

Hebrews 4:14–16 (NLT) So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  (v. 10)  “Why are standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”  (v. 11)

Jesus left his disciples, who would soon receive the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit, to return to his Father’s right hand.  The Ascension of Christ left the disciples feeling lost.  Their Lord and Savior had left them.  But God is gracious, he sent them two angels to encourage them and to remind them and us that the One who had just left them in the clouds would return again to usher in the Kingdom of God in totality.  Although the end had not yet come, they (and we) should anticipate the day when Christ would return again.

Why are you still standing here staring up into heaven?  Jesus will return, but until he does, we must be about our business of being his witnesses.

The Spirit has come. We live on this side of Pentecost.  Through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we experience the presence of Christ in us.  Everything that happens in Acts is what Christ continued to say and do through the Holy Spirit.  The disciples were ordinary people filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We remain ordinary people, but we have access to the extraordinary resources of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Jesus will come. This knowledge gives us perspective.  The world in which we live remains a fallen world, but we can see that nothing will prevent the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center conducted a Religious Landscape Study.  They found that the number of Christians in the US has declined since 2007 from 78% of the population to 70%.  The biggest declines have been among mainline Protestants and Catholics.  Mainline Protestants have declined from 18% in 2007 to 15%.  The only group that increased was that of the unaffiliated, the so-called “nones,” that is, those who professed no religion grew from 16% in 2007 to 22%.  Whatever you think of the study’s results, the study points out the increasing secularization of our society.  We are living in an increasingly post-Christian society.  While some are wringing their hands together, for me, the study points out the need for the witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ in our society.  Now more than ever in our history, people need the Lord.

The question of that the angels ask is still relevant today:  Why are you still standing here?

The work of the church is not yet finished.  We are called to be his witnesses, telling people about him everywhere – in Bowie, throughout Texas, throughout the United States, and to the ends of the earth.

Life in Communion

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Acts 2:42-44 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.

The Book of Acts outlines the growth of the church after Pentecost.  The theme of the book can be found in the words of Jesus recorded in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.  And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The book of Acts was written by Luke as the second part of the 2 volumes Luke-Acts.  In Acts 1:1-2, Luke gives us his purpose statement:  In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles instructions through the Holy Spirit.  These verses tell us that the theme for Acts is everything that Jesus  continued to do after his ascension into heaven, through the Holy Spirit.  So the title of the book is often called the “Acts of the Apostles,” it should rather be called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.”

In the church season following Easter (Eastertide), the book of Acts is always substituted for the Old Testament in the Revised Common Lectionary.  The readings begin with Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-32 on Pentecost and end with the events that occurred on Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21.

On Easter Sunday, we greeted one another with the greeting:  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  But Easter Sunday is not the end of the celebration of the resurrection.  Easter Sunday begins The Great 50 Days.  Jesus continued to appear to the disciples over the course of 40 days until his ascension.  He commanded his followers to remain in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:6-8)  On the Day of Pentecost, which we celebrate each year on Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit arrived in surprising fashion, and we often call this day the birthday of the church.

After Pentecost, we are told that the church lived “Life in Communion.”  (Acts 2:42-47)  “They committed themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” (v. 42)  This verse will serve as the theme verse for our sermons in the season of Eastertide.

What does it mean for the church to live into the resurrection life that Jesus promised?  What would it look like in the church, if we actually lived like the church in Acts 2:42 – “Life in Communion”?

“Run the race!”

Pastor Steve

 

 

Living Our Baptismal Calling: Confess

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John 4:1-42 Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Key verses:  John 4:13–14 (NLT)  Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

This is the familiar passage about Jesus meeting a woman at the well.  In John 3, we saw Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, sneaking in to meet Jesus at night.  Now Jesus is on his way back from Jerusalem and stops to rest at the well of Sychar, a village in Samaria.  Scholars believe that the village of Sychar is most probably to be identified with the town of Shechem, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph (John 4:5).

There was a well there which is ascribed to Jacob.  The well is still there near the village of Askar.  The well is 100 feet deep and is fed by a nature spring.  It continues to provide fresh water.  In Jesus time, the well was probably had a low wall around it and had a cover over it, upon which Jesus sits.  The well provides the main metaphor which Jesus uses in his discourse with the woman at the well.

We are not told the woman’s name.  In contrast to Nicodemus, she is anonymous.  This may be that she is meant to represent all of us.  In Jesus discourse with Nicodemus, we are left to wonder what happened to him.  Jesus gave him this famous call to eternal life:  John 3:16, 17 “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the wotld through him.” The contrast between Nicodemus and the woman couldn’t be more obvious.

A lot of sermon points have been made about the morality of the woman.  We shouldn’t judge her too harshly.  Women in the Jewish society of the ANE had few opportunities.  The likelihood is that she was abandoned and/or divorced by these 5 men.  And she was not married to the man she was now with.

The biblical claim is that the Samaritans are the descendants of the pagan settlers of northern Palestine who were resettled there by the Assyrian Empire after the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel.  These settlers married the poor Jewish folk who remained in the land.  DNA tests have proven the biblical claims of their origin.

There are some 700 Samaritans who still live in Palestine near Mount Gerazim.  Many scholars believe that there was a sizeable Samaritan population in the churches to which John was writing this Gospel.  Hence the inclusion of this passage, which is unique to John.

The antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans is rooted in the Jewish return from exile as recounted in Ezra-Nehemiah.  When the returning Jews asked for help in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans refused.  (Ezra 4:7-24; Neh. 4:1-9).  Later they built their own temple on Mount Gerazim.  This temple was destroyed by the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus in 128 BC.  Hostility toward Jewish travelers through Samaria resulted in most Jews choosing to take the longer route between Galilee and Judea along the Jordan R.

The key question in the passage (and in the Gospel of John) is “Who is Jesus?”  A. B. Simpson wrote a song entitled, “What Will You Do with Jesus?”  The woman’s understanding of who Jesus is changes from “a Jew” (v. 9), to a respectful “sir” (v. 11), to a “prophet” (v. 19).  The Samaritans only have the Torah, the books of Moses.  They do not include the Prophets or the Writings in their Scriptures.

“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”  The gift of God of which Jesus speaks, he will later name as the Holy Spirit.  Later Jesus would say, (John 7:37-39), “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink!  For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ ” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)  The whole setting and discourse help us to remember our own baptismal calling, as the Samaritan woman is being called to make a confession of faith.

The Samaritan woman would have remembered the promise of the coming of a “Prophet” like Moses (Deut. 18:15).  This is the first prophecy of the coming Messiah.  So they too were a people awaiting the Messiah, as the woman’s response to Jesus confirms:  “I know the Messiah is coming – the one who is called the Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  (v. 25)

The climactic moment in the story comes in the next verse, Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”  Literally, “I Am – the one who speaks to you!”  (Ego eimi – ho lalon soi.)  No where does Jesus make such a plain statement of his identity.  He is the Messiah, and all that goes along with that title:  Son of God and Son of Man.  Jesus, announcing the marvelous and unthinkable, stepped right into the center of her hopes.

Jesus’ discourse with the woman is interrupted by the return of the disciples.  Jesus uses the opportunity as a teaching moment for them as he speaks of the coming spiritual harvest (vv. 34-38).

Meanwhile the woman runs into the village and becomes the first disciple to preach the Good News about Jesus Christ to the Samaritans.  And the harvest comes:  “Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus…”  And they also join the chorus of witnesses in Jesus:  “Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”  The promise of John 3:16 is beginning to be fulfilled.

A. B. Simpson’s Gospel song, “What Will You Do with Jesus?” first verse and refrain says:  Jesus is standing in Pilate’s Hall – friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all,

Harken!  What meaneth the sudden call?  What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking, “What will He do with me?”

Jesus went out of His way to minister to this woman.  In the same way, He went out of His way – to the cross – so that we could know God’s truth about salvation.

 

 

 

 

Salt and Light

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Matthew 5:13–16 (NLT)

“You are the salt of the earth…”  “You are the light of the world…”  (Matt. 5:13a, 14a)

 

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus continues teaching about life in the Kingdom of God.  This is the second passage in the Sermon on the Mount.  In the first passage, known as the Beatitudes, Jesus gave us lifestyle and character of a follower of Jesus.

In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  In the ancient world, salt was a valuable commodity.  In fact, Roman soldiers received salt as part of their payment, their salarium from which we get our word salary.  Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings.  Salt was useful as a condiment as it is today, but also useful as a food preservative.  In the Jewish religion, salt was also used for cleansing rituals.  In Leviticus, salt represents the relationship between God and Israel in the grain offering.  (Lev. 2:13)  Salt is a mineral that is essential for life.  And saltiness is one of the basic human tastes.  In fact, salt was so important to the economy of the ancient world that it was used as a medium of exchange throughout the Ancient Near East.  It is likely that Jesus does not have one of these particular properties in mind, but rather saltiness in general.

How can salt lose its saltiness?  In our modern society, we are used to pure salt, but in the ancient world, pure salt was not so easy to come by. Perhaps Jesus had in mind, impure salty rock which was used as a preservative could have the salt leached out of it after a period of time and then it was good for nothing.  Whatever the meaning of salt losing its saltiness, the next statement is clear.  Salt that is not salty is worthless and thrown out into the street.

In the next verse, Jesus uses the metaphor of “the light of the world” for this disciples, “like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.”  The light metaphor continues the salt metaphor and takes it one step further.

“Light” is an important theme in Scripture.  In John 1, Jesus is “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”  (John 1:5)  The physical contrast between the light and the darkness provides a metaphor for the contrast between good and evil, God and the spiritual forces of evil, the Kingdom of God and the world, believers and unbelievers.  Jesus later declared that he is “the light of the world.”  (John 8:12; 9:5)

Jesus’ life and the Good News of salvation bring light to those in darkness (Matt. 4:15-16).  In the same way, his disciples demonstrate the coming of the Kingdom of God and bring light into a world of darkness.  Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden.  You can see the city lights from far away.

In the same way, you wouldn’t hide a lamp under a basket.  Common sense tells you that you put a lamp up where it can be seen and where it can best shed light to the whole room.  In the ANE, the kind of lamp that was used was a small clay pot with a hole at one end, and a hole in the top to fill it.  It looks like a small tea pot.  The wick would come out of the spout.  Since these were very small, they would only give off a modest light.  To best use it, one would place it on a lamp stand, so it would give light to everyone in the house.

Jesus’ disciples are called to be the light of the world.  We cannot be hidden, because the very nature of the eternal life within us is a living testimony to the darkness around us.  Even one candle seems bright in a dark room.  Likewise the church is to be like a city set on a hill.  I like the way that Eugene Petersen puts it, “God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that  I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!”

The passage ends with an admonition, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  The good deeds of the follower of Christ will draw other people to live similarly and to glorify God.

When we share food with the hungry, we are the light of the world!

When we care for those who are homeless, we are the light of the world!

When we offer companionship to the lonely, we are the light of the world!

When we clothe the poor, we are the light of the world!

When we speak up for justice, we are the light of the world!

When we do such things in a weary world, we are the light of the world!

(Laura Jaquith Bartlett, The Abingdon Worship Annual 2017, Feb. 5, 2017)

 

The Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Poor

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Matthew 5:3 God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5 through 7 is the first of five long discourses in Matthew.  This first one is famously called the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew has introduced his theme with his preaching, “Repent of your sins and turn to God for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  (Matt. 4:17), and the calling of the first disciples (Matt. 4:18-22).  The Sermon on the Mount answers the question, what does life look like in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Ch. 5:1-12 is a passage called the Beatitudes (a word that means “Blessed” in Latin for the first word in each verse).  “Blessed are those who are…”  What does a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven – a follower of Christ – look like?  This is the specific question addressed in the Beatitudes.

Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes is usually translated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Luke has simply, “Blessed are the poor….”  So what does Jesus mean by the phrase “poor in spirit”?  The poor are certainly not those whom the world would consider blessed, and in fact, the world often has considered the poor to be poor as a result of their own lack of character, for example, because they are lazy.

In the OT, the poor are often depicted as especially pious because oppression by the wealthy leads them to trust in the Lord for salvation and deliverance rather than relying on the power of wealth.  (Ps. 37:14-15; 40:17; 68:28-33; Isa. 61:1; 66:2)  And this is still true today.  The poor are often kept poor because of the oppression of the wealthy and powerful, and oppressive systems and governments.  The wealthy often turn their faces from the poor in order to deny their role in causing this suffering, and the Bible is clear that God will judge the rich for this.  (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 1:46-56)

In both Matthew and Luke, the poor are really poor materially, but it is their faith in God, not their poverty, is what makes them blessed.  The poor are often lifted up in the Bible as examples of faith toward God.  Poor people, precisely because of their lack of resources, are often humble in their nature and demeanor.  And the poor are most often those who must, because they have no material resources upon which to depend, must depend on God.

The word translated as “Blessed are…” is makarioi.  This is sometimes translated as “Happy are…”  But happiness in our modern culture is such an ephemeral concept it is subject to the vagaries of everyday life.

The blessed one is the one possesses the favor of God.  So Mary is called “highly favored.”  Blessedness differs from the happy person in that a person may be happy as a result of favorable circumstances.  The blessed one is blessed because his satisfaction comes from God despite circumstance.  So the poor are blessed because they have received the favor of God despite their poverty.

God of the poor, from the riches of your grace you share your riches with all who are in need.   Provide for the hungry and th e homeless and teach us to do likewise.  So also provide for all who spirits suffer from poverty, that none may doubt your goodness or overlook your faithfulness.  Above all, prevent us from thinking that we are rich, when we are really poor, blind, and naked – lest our self-deception separate us from you.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, became poor for our sake, so that by his poverty, we might become rich.  Amen.

New Year’s Resolutions

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Luke 9:23-25 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “If any of your wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”

Happy New Year!  At the beginning of the new year, it’s customary for people to make resolutions for the new year.  Usually these resolutions take the form of making a positive change in one’s life.  According to Bing, the top three resolutions for 2016 were:

to go back to school

to get a better job

to lose weight/get in shape

All of these resolutions are good, but almost all are doomed to failure.  The problem is that there is something called ‘immunity to change.’  According to Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change:  How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential In Yourself and Your Organization, immunity to change is the internal barrier to change in people in organizations.  In order to change, people and organizations must recognize and overcome the hidden barriers.  In their book, they outline a tool (The Immunity to Change Map) to discover through experimentation these hidden barriers and strategies to overcome these barriers.

Every year, I begin with good intentions.  This year, I have the same goal that I have had for the past several years, to lose weight and get back in shape.  I recognize that part of my weight loss problem is genetics (70% of weight gain is based on my genetics).  To overcome those genetics there are no shortcuts, the answer is the same as it has always been:  Diet and exercise.  To lose weight, you have to use more calories than you take in.  It’s simple math.

So why is it so hard?  My body is pre-programmed genetically to return to my highest weight.  In addition, I have to overcome the emotional barriers to change in my life.  I eat when I am anxious, stressed, bored, or tired.  I have to overcome the immunity to change in these areas, the way in which I sabotage my own success.

It’s the same for our spiritual goals.  In 2017, I have a spiritual goal of being a better pastor and leader.  How do I do that?  By following Jesus Christ, the model servant leader for all pastors and leaders in the church.  So as I study the Bible this year, I will be focusing on Jesus as servant leader.  What are the characteristics of Christ as servant leader that I should demonstrate in my life.

What is your spiritual goal for 2017?  To be a better disciple of Jesus Christ?  That should be the goal for every believer in every year.  In Luke 9:23, Jesus gives us a three-fold call to discipleship.

  1.  Give up your own way
  2. Take up your cross daily
  3. Follow Jesus

Giving up our own way is the hard part of discipleship, the part that we as Americans have a difficult time with in our consumer culture.  Taking up our cross implies a willingness to die to self and to live for God, even at the cost of our lives.  And following Jesus means not just saying a prayer for salvation.

Following Jesus means a daily giving up of oneself and following him.  The basis for this following or discipleship is our relationship with our Lord.  And the quality of our relationship will be determined by how much time we spend with him.  They knew that the disciples had been with Jesus when they saw them, because they were becoming like him.  They were becoming like him, because they had spent every day for three years with him – literally following him, watching him, and doing as he did.  This is discipleship:  Following Jesus, watching Jesus, and doing what Jesus did.  We can only do this as we spend time with our Lord.  The basic Christian practice is daily Bible study and prayer – spending time with Jesus.

In 2017, this is my prayer, it’s a prayer that you may know from the famous musical Godspell and the song “Day by Day.”  But the words of that song were originally a prayer of St. Richard of Chichester.

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.  Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.  Amen.