Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Category: Discipleship

Free Indeed

Yesterday was Independence Day here in the United States. On the Fourth of July each year, we celebrate our country’s decision in 1776 to separate itself from British rule and become a sovereign nation. 

For all our country’s problems – and we have many – I can’t think of any other place I’d rather live. Much of my viewpoint stems from the many freedoms granted to us in our Constitution and its Bill of Rights. I’m thankful for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the freedom to assemble, and so many other kinds of freedom. I honestly can’t imagine living elsewhere.

With one exception. 

There’s one freedom that can’t be given to me by any government or human entity. It’s a freedom that has nothing to do with my earthly residence. It’s freedom in Christ.

In John chapter eight, Jesus and his critics argue about the issue of paternity, his and theirs. Jesus claims that God is his Father, they claim that Abraham is their father. Jesus says their spiritual father is Satan and they accuse him of blasphemy. But within this lengthy conversation, Jesus makes three assertions about freedom that are noteworthy.

  • “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’” (John 8.31-32).
  • “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin’” (John 8.34).
  • “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.36).

There are many forms of enslavement, and none of them are good. But Jesus is talking about the dangers of enslavement to sin. To commit sin is to become the slave of sin. We become a slave to the guilt, shame, and habit of sin.

But Jesus says that to follow him and feed on his lifegiving word is what gives us freedom. To be a disciple of Jesus brings freedom from the guilt of sin, its shame, and its power. We don’t have to live with uncertainty, guilt, fear, and shame.’’

Finally, Jesus asserts that only he, as the Son of God, can grant us the truest freedom of all. In Jesus’ day, children and slaves often grew up together. Slave children, however, weren’t treated as family. Jesus said that as the Son, he could grant freedom and they could become children of their heavenly Father. 

As Americans, we have a lot of freedom. As children of God, we have even greater freedom. May God help us to live like free men and women!

A Daily Dose of Discipleship

Zig Ziglar, motivator extraordinaire, once said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Ziglar was right. All of us have important daily rituals and habits: bathing, brushing our teeth, checking our bank balance, catching up on email, reviewing our schedule, calling or texting children or parents or siblings, reading the newspaper or watching the news, counting calories, drinking so many glasses of water, etc. We all know that when we stop doing these things, bad habits and bad consequences follow.

What Ziglar says about motivation is also true of discipleship. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9.23). Following Jesus is a daily event. Discipleship demands daily commitment, daily service, daily attitude adjustments, daily goals, daily decisions. 

That means there’s no moment in your day when you’re not a disciple of Jesus. Every action, every relationship, every decision, every word, and everything you do is filtered through the lens of your relationship to Jesus.

When you’re at work, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Whether you’re the CEO, an accountant, an engineer, in HR or marketing, or if you’re making minimum wage flipping burgers, you’re a disciple. Whether you’re dealing with the boss, your coworkers, or your clients, you’re a disciple of Jesus.

When you’re at home, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Whether you’re dealing with your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents or grandparents, or even your next-door neighbors, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Every day, your relationship to Jesus determines how you treat your family.

When you’re on vacation or on your day off, you’re a disciple of Jesus. If you’re traveling, you’re a disciple. If you’re puttering around the house, you’re a disciple. If you’re by yourself away from the noise and distraction of your normal routine, you’re a disciple. If you’re surrounded by ten thousand other people, you’re a disciple.

All of this means that every day we should remind ourselves that we’ve made a lifelong commitment to the Lord Jesus. It also means that every day we follow through on that commitment. We need a daily dose of discipleship.

The Look

But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22.60-62)

There are only a handful of incidents from the life of Jesus recorded in all four gospels. The few we have are significant. That’s certainly the case with Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus.

Jesus had warned Peter of it (Luke 22. 31-32). Peter, a chronic victim of “foot-in-mouth disease” denied that he would deny Jesus (v. 33). Then reality set in as Peter followed Jesus’ movements after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three times, Peter denied Jesus. Three times a rooster crowed. At the moment of the third denial, Peter and Jesus were in a position to see each other (v. 61). 

Who knows what passed between them? Jesus’ friends had betrayed, denied, and abandoned him. In his eyes must have been heartache, disappointment, and immeasurable burden. Peter had thought himself beyond temptation. In his eyes must have been regret, despair, and self-loathing. 

Only Luke records the gaze between Peter and Jesus. Of the disciples, only Peter and John were present (John 18.15). Since Luke claims to record eyewitness information (Luke 1.1-4), Peter was apparently Luke’s source. Years after the fact, Peter still remembered. 

The real tragedy of Peter’s sin was that it was preventable. Of course, the real tragedy of our own sins is that they too are preventable. 

Just as Jesus warned Peter (v. 31-34), he warns us (1 Corinthians 10.12). Just as Peter had a way out (Luke 22.31-32, 40, 46), we too have a way out (1 Corinthians 10.13). Just as Jesus assured Peter of repentance and recovery (Luke 22.32), he assures us of the same (1 John 4.4; 5.4-5). 

If Peter’s eyes said, “What have I done,” Jesus’ eyes must have said, “What will you do?” When we fall and fail, that’s always the question.

Is God at Work in You?

Is God at work in you?

When I ask that question, I’m not asking if you’re religious. Or if you’re spiritual. Or if you’re a regular churchgoer. Or if you’re a good person. Or if you do a lot of good works.

You can be any of these things or all of them, and still lack God’s presence within you. In the New Testament era, most Pharisees could have checked off all these items. But Jesus said that instead of being full of God, they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23.27-28).

Two passages from Philippians come to mind when I think about God working in us.

  • Philippians 1.6 – “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good workin you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Philippians 2.12-13 – “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as inmy presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”Both texts state that God was at work in the lives of the Christians in Philippi.

The first text emphasized Paul’s confidence that God was still at work in them, thatwhat God had started he would finish. What comfort to know that the day we obeyed Christ as Lord was the day God began to change us. What assurance to know that he won’t finish working on us until the day Jesus returns.

The second text emphasized Paul’s expectation of them, that they must continue to work even if Paul wasn’t around, because they were doing God’s work. How challenging to adopt God’s will as our own. How sobering to know that God has expectations for us.


  1. Look for changed priorities. If God is at work within us, what’s important to himbecomes important to us. What we once valued will no longer be valuable; what weonce neglected becomes significant.
  2. Look for changed relationships. If God is at work within us, our friendships and familyrelationships will change. We learn to look at others through the eyes of Jesus. We learnto love others as God does.
  3. Look for changed attitudes. If God is at work within us, we’ll no longer think the waythe world thinks. Our attitudes about time, money, work, politics, entertainment, morality, possessions, status, race, poverty, and religion will radically shift. If we’ve been Christians for some time, and we still resemble our unbelieving neighbors, we need to ask if we’re letting God work within us.

Years ago, my twin sister had a keychain that said, “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” For all of us in Christ, that’s really good news.

Humiliation or Humility?

I knew that some day it would come. I just wasn’t ready for it when it happened. But there it was, in the mail. In the upper left corner of the plain white envelope were four letters: AARP. I was being scouted by the geezers.

Its optimistic tone couldn’t mask the baleful implications of its message: “Our records indicate that you are already missing out on great benefits, yada, yada, yada.” Well, their records were wrong! At the time, I wasn’t even fifty years old – at least in that regard I was like Jesus (John 8.57).  

Regardless, the signs were already there. My youngest child is the only one to not remember me having hair. When I played football or basketball with my son, I was in pain for days. My oldest daughter could outrun me. My clothing began shrinking at an alarming rate. My forehead got taller and taller. My cholesterol had far outstripped my IQ.

Could geezerdom be far behind?

As I pondered the letter, and my reaction to it, I first thought to myself that it was a humbling experience. That wasn’t quite true. It would be more accurate to say that it was a humiliating experience. To humiliate is to “make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect” (Oxford American Dictionary). To humble someone can have the same meaning (at least in English), although it primarily means to “lower (someone) in dignity or importance” (Oxford). 

In Biblical thought, to be humbled is to be brought low. Humility is lowliness of spirit. It’s not so much having a poor opinion of yourself, your accomplishments, or your abilities; rather it’s simply not allowing self to enter the picture. Paul said that humility involved regarding others as more important than you and considering what’s in the best interest of others before considering your own interests (Philippians 2.3-4).

Where humiliation and humility differ is in their origin. Humiliation originates with our egos. When we’re humiliated, it’s because our egos have been bruised. We think, “How dare they do that to me!” Humility originates with a conscious decision to quit thinking of self. Self isn’t allowed an opinion about how others treat us. So then, if we’re injured or ridiculed, there’s no need to react with shame or embarrassment because we realize our self-worth is unchanged. We think, “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Hebrews 13.6)

Too often we react from an inflated ego rather than a humble spirit. Insults and injuries (real or imagined) ignite us in a moment. In our minds we have something at stake, something to defend, and we react accordingly. 

Jesus expects more from his followers. It’s no wonder Jesus said that to be a disciple, a man “must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Luke 9.23). Step one is self-denial. In this we’re only following Jesus’ own example: “And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2.23). Perhaps the reason we do so poorly in applying this is because we’ve never mastered step one.

Humility is liberating because it allows us to function in a variety of circumstances, good or bad. When self is no longer the reference point of our existence, we’re free to pursue other, more worthwhile things. Such humility enabled Paul to say, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.10).

For most of us, the biggest source of misery is not age, illness, money or persecution. Our greatest source of misery is self. So long as self holds first place in our lives, we may expect regularly to be humiliated. 

And as for me and my mail: “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What will AARP do to me?”