Esprit

Engaging the spirit, challenging the mind.

Category: The Commands of Christ

Keeping the Commands of Christ – Week Two – Follow Him

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'” Matthew 4:19, ESV

Andrew initially encountered Jesus by following John the Baptist and went to tell his brother Simon that they had found the Messiah.  When Jesus met Simon, He told him that he would be called Cephas (Peter).  Later, Jesus approached both while going about their daily work and told them that He intended to change their lives.  He laid out His simple vision straightaway: they were going to turn from catching fish to catching people (for God).  He also told them just how it was going to happen–it would happen by following Him.  They became Jesus’ disciples and were transformed from fishermen into apostles of the Kingdom of God, preaching, performing miracles, and guiding God’s people.  After Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the religious leaders marveled at the changed men before them, as Luke records “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  Acts 4:13

They took note of the fact that they had been with Jesus.  Walking with Christ was the means of their change. The transformation came through discipleship.  When Jesus originally approached them, He did not say, “Be inspired by Me” or “Think well of Me,” or even, “Make Me a part of your life.”  Rather He said “Follow Me.”  In responding to His call, Andrew and Peter walked where He walked, slept where He slept and came to do the works that He did.  They listened to and learned from Him.

We are to do the same–follow Him in spirit even if not physically.  Recently a fellowship group I’m a part of had a dedicated time of prophecy and encouragement.  We were to speak words over one another as the Spirit led.  When it was my turn to receive a word, one young woman said that I tend to pay attention to words and take time to think about exactly the right one to use.  She then said that I should take Christ’s words and allow those words to continue to lead and guide me.  To some, that could sound vague, but it didn’t strike me as such at the time.  It was a call to renewed focus on meditating on the word of God.  I’m not surprised, then, that I later felt led to start this yearlong reflection on the commands of Christ.  I believe that such meditation is an answer to the same call Andrew and Peter answered; by hearing His word and learning to think as He thinks, we will be transformed.

We might have many goals in life, but it bears repeating that the leaders took note that Andrew and Peter had been with Jesus.  Whatever we become in this life, people should be able to recognize that we have been with Christ.  The apostles had the bearing, the speech, and the works of men who had followed Christ and were recognizable as such.  Their transformation was astonishing, as it did not come through schooling (as the leaders noted) or any other training aside from walking with Christ.  Education serves a useful purpose as a tool, but we can only be made Christlike in holiness and power by truly becoming His followers..

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Keeping the Commands of Christ – Week One – Repent!

Matthew 4:13-17 –

13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people dwelling in darkness

have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

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While Jesus’ turning of the water into wine at Cana was His first miraculous sign (John 4:11), the ushering in of his public ministry can be said to have really begun with the preaching of repentance.  John the Baptist, the one sent to “prepare the way of the Lord,” preached a Gospel of repentance, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:2;10)  When Jesus began preaching, He proclaimed the same message.

Repentance prepares the way for the Lord into our hearts.  He seeks to be Lord–ruler–but we have set up fiefdoms here and there, strongholds where His will in our lives does not prevail.  Christ is glad to conquer our heart, but we must let Him in, and we do so by repenting of that which we know is against Him.  But what does it mean to repent?  On it’s most basic level, repentance means to turn away from something, to change one’s mind.  It is not wavering, but involves intent.  In preparation for Jesus’ ministry, the Father sent John the Baptist to exhort people to turn away from their sins and to think differently about their actions.

To repent does not mean to perfect oneself.  It means to change the state of one’s heart from one of rebellion against the ways of God to one of obedience.  Even if we think we’re pretty decent, even if we believe that certain things are okay, the question is whether we are willing to change our minds and follow God’s commands rather than our own desires and will.  Such a change is the essence of repentance, which leads to conversion of heart.

People who are “converts” to something have adopted a new way of life, a new way of being.  God desires all who serve Him to have converted hearts.  Speaking of repentance and conversion together, the Catechism states that “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. (1431)  Repentance refers to our thinking about something; what we once looked upon as good, right, OK, acceptable, etc., we reject as unacceptable, wrong, bad, etc.  Or perhaps even things we looked down upon–for some, maybe faith itself–we now hold in esteem.  St. Augustine puts it wonderfully:

Gates of Repentance I by David Wolk

“Whoever confesses his sins…is already working with God.  God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God.  man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities:  when you hear ‘man’ – this is what God has made; when you hear ‘sinner’ – this is what man himself has made.  Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made…When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works.  The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works.  You do the truth and come to the light.” (Augustine, Tractates on John, In Jo. ev. 12, 13) (1458)

Even if we accept God’s definition of right and wrong, the sins we commit originate in our hearts, and  to change our heart is up to God.  For “The human heart is heavy and hardened.  God must give man a new heart.  Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: ‘Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored!'” (1432)  While many have a profound conversion experience at a point in their life–I did–this call to repentance and conversion of heart is continuous.  As we grow in our understanding of God and of the nature of sin within us, we continue to turn away from that which is sinful and toward the Lord, ever relying up on His grace to experience change from the heart.

Reflections on 2012–You Either Know God or You Don’t

I often find different themes running throughout my spiritual life, sometimes through a word or phrase, recurring dreams or conversations with other believers.  In the latter part of 2012, I found myself often thinking, “You either know God or you don’t”–not to anyone else, but to myself.  I either know God or I don’t.  So much energy can be expended reading, reflecting, talking, serving and doing any number of things centered on one’s faith.  But at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding–You either know God or you don’t.  You either hear His voice or you don’t.  He either claims you as His own or He doesn’t.  And as Jesus warned us, there will be many who will point to all the spiritual things they had done to prove that they knew Him, and He will deny ever having known them at all. (Matt. 7:22-23)  A troubling thought.  The Lord is a living Person, more real than anything we can physically see or touch–for it is only in Him that we and all that is around us exists.  (Acts 17:28)  In all our religious doings, if we do not manage to connect to this Person in an active and dynamic way, we’re going to miss the point.  When I speak of connecting with Him, I’m not necessarily speaking of spiritual or mystical experiences; those are special favors granted by the Lord and are more like icing on the cake rather than the cake itself.  Rather, I’m speaking of knowing Him and being in fellowship with Him, of loving Him with heart, mind, soul and strength.

Christ provided a perfect example of what it looks like to love God and thus to remain in fellowship with Him.  It was through His perfect obedience unto death that He remained in unity with the Father.  Never boasting of Himself or of His power, one thing He did say of Himself is that “He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”  John 8:29 ESV  The Father remained with Jesus and Jesus remained in the Father through submission to the Father’s will.  This is how we grow in God, how we come to know Him in truth–through obeying His word.  As Christ also said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  John 14:21  What an amazing promise and invitation!

So, with my spirit having pondered what it truly means to know God in 2012, and desirous to enter more deeply into the life of God, I thought it fitting to focus on the commands of Christ in 2013.  There are hundreds of commands throughout the New Testament, but one ministry takes all of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels and identifies 50 commands of Christ.  A reflection on one of those commands every week will lead right up to 2014.  And I am confident that the Lord will be faithful and good this year to produce good fruit from those reflections and make good on His promise, drawing near to those who draw near to Him.

Let us draw near to Him–check back on Sundays for a reflection on His commands.  Blessings!