THE WAY HOME: WEEKLY DEVOTIONS

Written by Greg Steggerda

FALSE TEACHING

November 19, 2019
There are a lot of different things said about God these days, ranging from “He doesn’t exist,” to “He’s going to take everyone to heaven.” Most of them are obviously wrong, but sometimes it’s hard to be certain. Are people bringing us true words of God or not?

It turns out there’s a way to know that, too. John tells us how, in 1 John 4:6: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

Ever notice there are some people you can’t even talk to? They dismiss everything you say at best; at worst they won’t even discuss things with you. Well, John says that’s a surefire way to identify a false prophet.

That’s because humility is a consistent trait of God’s true servants. No real Christian will ever refuse to sit and seek the truth from scripture with you, or pray over your differences. People who are really living close to God will be gentle and patient in persuading you, and will also be open to counsel themselves.

So, no mic-drops between Christian brothers and sisters. No one-way conversations or lectures. No final words or destroying opponents or shutting them down. Jesus-followers are always willing to listen to others.

You can see why it’s a clear way to spot someone bringing false teachings. It’s so counter-cultural, so radically different from the way everyone else acts.

It’s also a good way to tell when we’re getting off track. When we’d rather shut down someone else than listen, it’s a good time to ask if we’re talking truth or just our opinion or preference.

THREE RESPONSES TO JESUS

November 20, 2019
Luke 5 give an interesting review of the three ways Jews responded when they encountered Jesus.

In verse, after Jesus provided fish for the fishermen, this was Peter’s reaction: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” Peter didn’t even want to be near Jesus; his shame at his own sinfulness was too great to bear.

A few verses later, a leper saw things a little differently, in verses 12 and 13: “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’” This leper saw a savior when he saw Jesus; he hoped for mercy, and he got it.

In contrast to Peter and the leper, look at the response of the religious leaders, in verse 21: “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” They were disdainful and dismissive; Jesus didn’t meet their standards or fit into their expectations of a rabbi, so they labeled him a blasphemer.

These seem to me to be examples of three ways we can respond. We can deny who Jesus is and defy his lordship over our lives. We can run away in shame, thinking our sin is too much even for the Savior. Or we can turn to him in hope.

At times, I think I’ve done all three. Right now, by the grace of God, I’m able to follow the example of the leper.

KEEPING IT SIMPLE

November 21, 2019
Sometimes scripture is so remarkable in its clarity that it can, in a single well-drafted sentence, completely simplify something that I make too complicated. 1 Peter 2:17 is just such a sentence: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

One simple, declarative statement that clears the fog on four key relationships.

To all other people on earth, I am to show proper respect. That doesn’t mean I agree with them or even like them, but regardless of the differences we have, every single person deserves to be treated with dignity and kindness. I should find ways to interact, whether that interaction is neighborly or transactional or some sort of conflict, that reinforce the basic, God-created value of every person.

To other Christians, I must show love. They might be too charismatic, or not give enough money, or too bossy, or want the wrong kind of music. It doesn’t matter; these are the beloved bride of Jesus and he he expects me to love all of them.

God is to be feared. While I love him as a Father and value him as a friend and provider, I must never lose sight of the reality that he is, in fact, God. If I make him a buddy, I lose the healthy respect I should have for his power and his holiness. The angels covered their faces when in the presence of God, and I’m supposed to retain that fear as well.

And I am to honor the emperor. Really, that’s what scripture says. Donald Trump, by virtue of his position, is to be upheld. Had Hillary Clinton been elected, the same would hold. What Peter is calling for here is that we stand in support of authority because God instituted political authority to provide order. The opposite is chaos, and chaos is where the devil does his work. So honoring the emperor is the way we respect God’s plan for ordering our societies.

There it is. Every relationship I have and will ever have, explained to me in just a handful of words. The lack of qualifications is telling; Peter doesn’t give us any exceptions. There are no cases where we can exclude someone. For every person on earth, we have a simple rule to follow. Every situation that screams for civil disobedience or confrontation or separation, as justified as those things might be, can therefore somehow be accomplished without diminishing the other people involved.

It’s a high bar, but then every standard given by Jesus is high. At least it’s not hard to understand.

GOING NATIVE

November 22, 2019
There’s a lot you can read these days on how to live your life. Prosperity, fitness, leisure, and power are all big-money industries, with books and seminars and trainers and life coaches. Many of my fellow Christians are living in pursuit of one of these lifestyles. We so easily are led to believe that money and beauty and power and recreation are the sources of joy.

In his first letter, Peter reminds us that all of these things are distractions at best. Here’s what he wrote in 1 Peter 1:17-19: “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

Peter points out several facts that should make us stop and think. First, God judges our work, what we do. We want him to look at our intentions, but he wants to see fruit. Second, God is an impartial judge, at least when it comes to our works. He’s partial to anyone saved by Jesus in terms of salvation, but when he judges our lives here on earth, he’s impartial. He won’t give us all the benefits of all the doubts that we give ourselves.

So, Peter advises, we shouldn’t live like this is home. We should instead consider ourselves foreigners. And we should live here in reverent fear, remembering that God has expectations and that one day, like little children who were told to wait until daddy gets home, we’ll have to explain ourselves face to face.

As a soldier, I think of it this way: we’re on deployment. We’re in foreign lands, here with a mission to do. It’s a nation-building operation, and the nation we’re building is God’s kingdom. But we’re only here as long as it takes to get the mission done.

Now, some deployed soldiers go native, find a local wife, and stay on when their tour is up. But most carry pictures of their boyfriends and girlfriends, wives and husbands, children and parents, and they look at them every day. Most call home whenever they can, video chat if that’s an option on their base, write letters when there’s not another option. They love the care packages that seem like a touch of the motherland. Most never forget where home really is, and live for the day they get to go back.

When I’m tempted to go native, Peter reminds me that one day I’ll be going home, no matter what I want. And on that day I’ll face a Father who will judge my work, not on how good a guy I was, but on how faithful a soldier I became.

NO REPAYMENT

November 23, 2019
There’s a reason I struggle with discipleship and faithful living. It’s because kingdom thinking is so strikingly different from the ways of our culture. Being a Christian really does require us to be counter-cultural, when what we want so often is to just fit in.

Take this, for example, from Luke 14:12-14: “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”

There are a couple of odd ideas here, if I can say that about a teaching of Jesus. The first is this idea of having a dinner and not inviting our friends. Dinners in our circles are social. They’re for relationship building and having fun. We have them to relax and unwind. We don’t typically throw them as a service to other people. When we want to do that, we do it as a church group and hold the meal at church.

But to Jesus there were no casual events. He was never off-duty; everything he did was calculated to get him another step closer to completion of his mission. Jesus didn’t have his work and his private life. Jesus’ work was his life. So to be a Christian is to buck our culture by seeing our purpose and the purpose of our skills and wealth differently.

The other odd idea is not only to expect no repayment, but in fact to ensure it. Jesus says to make sure we serve people who can’t possibly repay. He isn’t impressed by fee-for-service arrangements or quids pro quo. Jesus likes to see us pouring ourselves out for other people. He doesn’t intend that we will receive back from them, but that we will receive back from him.

In our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, that’s just weird. If we live like that, we’re not going to look like other people. We’re not going to fit in.

But that, I think is the point. Christians should stand out. If our faith doesn’t make us different, then it won’t be much good to us.

NOT WILLING

November 24, 2019
Back in the day, there was a phrase used in the services to describe troops you could or should send on a mission: ready, willing and able. Those are three words to describe three different necessities. Able, of course, means that person was capable of doing the task. Ready means they were prepared. They had the right training and equipment, and were healthy and fit. Willing meant they would. They agreed with the mission, at least enough to give it their best.

It isn’t hard to find ready and able people. Willing people are another matter. Especially where hard work, deprivation or danger are involved, most people opt out.

I thought of that again this morning when I read Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem in Luke 13, especially this part from verse 34: “‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.’”

That’s striking, isn’t it? Jesus longed to protect and provide for the Jews of Jerusalem; he wanted achingly to save them. But they weren’t willing. They didn’t want it. They clung stubbornly to their sin and their laws and their hierarchy of power. And maybe they didn’t think life as they knew it was so wonderful, but they thought change would be for the worse. They opted not to rock the boat.

We can be so blind. We can love this world so much, even as we complain about how it’s going to pot and moan about how hard life is. But, like the ancient Jews, we cling stubbornly to what we have. We push back against Jesus. I can’t remember the exact words, but C.S. Lewis once compared us to little kids who won’t leave our mud puddle because we can’t imagine the wonders of a day at the seashore.

Am I willing to take everything Jesus is ready to give? Freedom from guilt; an antidote to fear; joy and hope and love in abundance – Jesus has promised all of these things. Life lived close alongside him would be a giddy, exciting, exhilarating and fun ride through this world. Instead of plodding along, I could be living fully – my relationships would be better, my work would be more fulfilling, my wants would be simpler, and my dissatisfactions would wither away. I imagine my days would be fast-moving, full of vivid experiences and memorable people, because I’d see it all the way Jesus sees it.

Am I ready to stop playing in the mud and go see the world as Jesus created it to be? Jesus would gather us to him like chicks, to care for and nurture and empower and lead, if we were only willing.

WISDOM's CHILDREN

November 25, 2019

I heard a presentation once on how the way we think shapes the way we interact. The presenter talked about two kinds of thinking.

One, which she found to be by far most prevalent, she called soldier thinking. Soldier thinkers, she explained, see two sides to everything. If you’re not on the right side, you must be defeated. Any ideas that help your side are defended vigorously. Any information that helps the other side is attacked relentlessly.

Sounds a bit like our national discourse these days, doesn’t it? But it was also true in Jesus day. Look at what he said to the religious leaders in Luke 7:33-35: “’For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by all her children.’”

I think it was one of Bill Clinton’s people who said, during his presidency, that it doesn’t matter what’s true. What matters is what you can make people think might be true. That’s the kind of thinking that can make evil out of both abstinence and drinking. That’s soldier thinking.

The other kind of thinking this presenter called scout thinking. She noted that in war a scout’s job is to find out the truth. How many enemy are there? Where are they? Can that river be crossed? Is there snow in the pass? Accurate information is worth lives in combat, and it does no good to deceive yourself with things you’d like to be true. Scout thinkers don’t let themselves be seduced by what they want to believe; they constantly look for evidence of the truth.

I think that gets close to what Jesus meant with his last comment. Who are the children of wisdom? Aren’t they the thoughtful conclusions and appropriate actions that come from understanding what is true? If wisdom is knowing what’s right in light of what’s true, then wisdom’s children must grow up with a clear-eyed vision for truth.

Soldier thinking can get you in trouble. Soldier thinking wins no new friends. Soldier thinking ensures only that you will have a lifetime of conflict.

Wisdom’s children, on the other hand, avoid all that. Wisdom’s children know that all truth springs from the one who named himself Truth, and lies and conflict were never his way. When we accept our new place as Truth’s brothers, we have to set soldier thinking aside and look only for the truth.


About THE AUTHOR

GREG STEGGERDA

Servant, steward, friend. Operations Manager by day, writer and photographer by night, student of life always. Experience: company and battalion command, 15 years in manufacturing operations. Education: BA in English, military history Masters, Combined Arms and Services Staff School, Command and General Staff College. Greg and his wife Dawn are active members of FIrst Reformed Church.