Okay, I know that juggling multi-colored balls has nothing to do with following Jesus…
…or does it?
The Bible is full of injunctions of various types, and when we read the apostle Paul’s letters we’re bound to see him adamantly exhorting us to live moral lives. But we have to remember a couple of crucial things.
First, Paul always couches even his most adamant exhortations within the context of God’s grace. Even this great challenge — to offer our whole selves as sacrifices to God — is to be done “because of all [God] has done for you.” If we truly understand the gracious agency of God, we will also understand why we can trust God with our whole selves.
Second, following Jesus is not something we either “do” or “don’t do” in some binary way. We learn to follow Jesus. It starts with this most fundamental practice of offering ourselves to God. That is a skill that we develop over time. It doesn’t really come naturally. It takes practice, repetition, and time. But it is possible. And, according to John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, and the witness of the whole New Testament…it’s both necessary and eternally rewarding.
- Is there something about yourself that you know needs to “pass away” in order for the life of Christ to be more fully realized in you?
- What are some of the obstacles that make “offering yourself” difficult?
- How might you overcome those obstacles?
- You’re not in this alone — who in your life can come alongside you in this process, both to encourage you and hold you accountable?
John 3:1-16, Jesus Teaches Nicodemus
This is really the question, isn’t it? At least, it’s the first thing out of Nicodemus’s mouth when Jesus tells him that “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.” And it’s fair enough — most of us would ask the same, I’ll bet.
And it also points to Nicodemus’s world view that in order to see the Kingdom of God, there must be some way for him to do it. Some thing for him to accomplish. Some sacred rule or ritual that would qualify him for it. This is why Jesus’ image of birth is so important. For who among us accomplished anything that gave us the right to be born in the first place? To be born once is a gift of grace. And thus to be born again of the Spirit is also a gift of God’s grace.
We call this “justifying” grace insofar as being “justified” means to be “set right” before God. It’s by God’s prevenient grace that we are led to God in the first place. It is by God’s justifying grace on the Christ’s cross that we are set right in relationship to God, even while we are yet sinners.
- The image of birth is one of grace, but it does not come easily. In what ways might being “born again” of God’s Spirit be difficult, painful, or arduous?
- Being “born again” is surely an image for the first time one comes to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. But there are times when even our faith in Jesus can feel dormant, even comatose. What might we need in those times to enliven our faith?
- Despite all of our studies and theology, the Spirit of God remains unpredictable and out of our control. How does Jesus’ image of the “wind” in verse 8 make you feel?
- Consider the word “whoever” in verse 16. In what ways does this openness comfort you? Do you think it ever challenges those who hear this famous summary of the gospel message? How so?
Many blessings in the journey,
Last week, we heard about “pilers,” that is, people who tend to pile up their homes or offices with the clutter of everyday life. And while we’d like God to bless our mess, what we really need is transformation.
In so many places worldwide, people’s lives are “piled” with messes that they cannot transform. They come in the form of poverty, injustice, disease, corporate and cultural challenges, and many more. And of course the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is active in the world. Moreover, God is calling us to engage people’s “messiness” by sharing their burdens with them.
In this way, we hope to move ever closer to the vision John had in the book of Revelation: a great multitude from every nation praising God for the freedom God has given us in Christ Jesus.
- When you consider the needs of your local community, what needs stand out the most?
- When you consider the needs of the wider world, what needs stand out the most?
- Have you ever “shared someone’s burden” with them? What was your experience?
- Have you ever had someone else share in your burden with you? What was that like?
- Regardless of the way we serve others, it requires a degree of self-sacrifice. What might you have to give up, or give away, from your normal routine in order to answer God’s call to share in others’ burdens?
Many blessings to you in gracious service!
John 5:1-15, The Healing at the Pool
Picture it — a kitchen, garage, or office piled with clutter. And above it all hangs a well-intentioned sign reading “Bless This Mess!” It’s a fun way of acknowledging the reality of our messy lives, to be sure. It might be that when we ask God to bless our mess, we’re really wanting God to excuse or ignore our mess, or maybe somehow wave his divine wand and fix it.
Well, Paul proclaims in Romans 3:23-24, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And “all” means ALL. No one’s righteousness exalts them to heaven. But the good news is that “all” means ALL when it comes to God’s justifying grace, too. So God does offer a grace that can and will transform our messes. Having done it in Christ, however, he also expects participation from us.
- Think about the phrase: “Bless This Mess.” Are there any messes in your life that you’d rather have God just “bless” than really transform?
- Jesus asked the man at the pool: “Do you want to get well?” What if Jesus asked you the same thing? How would you answer?
- The man’s healing was 100% God’s grace. What did the man have to do to participate in that grace? What can we do today to participate in God’s grace to us?
- Later (chapter 5 verse 14) why does Jesus still urge the man to “stop sinning” after his physical healing?
The life we are living is a gift. Even though life has its “ups and downs,” even the chance we have to experience life had to have been initiated as a gift long before we could have understood it or contributed to it.
And there is a narrative arc that extends from before you were born until this moment, and what links that narrative together is Grace.
The grace of God is manifest to us in three ways, the first of which is known as “Prevenient Grace.” It refers to the ways God was at work in our lives before we could have had an awareness of him. We might see that grace as we look back in reflection, but at the moment we couldn’t have recognized it.
In the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector was eager to get a glimpse of Jesus. But what led him to that state of mind? How did he feel when he realized that Jesus already knew who he was and had plans for him before they even met?
- Can you link 3-5 events in your life story together to see how they led you to where you are today?
- Life can be really tough; can you see the work of God’s grace in your story even in the most difficult chapters?
- If your story is one of God’s grace, what can you infer about the lives of others you know? What about strangers? Enemies?
- If God has been at work throughout your life, what does that mean about your present? Your future?
Stories are meant to be shared — if you’d like to share some of your story, you’re welcome to in the comments!