Judas Thaddaeus Jameson Asked a Question

There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.

It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.

I would hate to be that other Judas.

On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.

John 14:22-25. Continue reading

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The Model Prayer in Question Format

What if Jesus’ example of prayer was in the form of questions? I’m not talking Jeopardy® here, as in, “Who is ‘our Father in heaven’?” but something more…versatile.

Maybe Jesus didn’t
expect us to recite
the Model Prayer.

There’s nothing wrong with reciting the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) verbatim. I’ve done it many times and found it meaningful sometimes. But I wonder if such recitation was Jesus’ intention when He gave it to the disciples and other followers. Maybe He didn’t expect us to memorize it and repeat it all together. After all, He says, “This, then, is how you should pray” (6:9, italics added) not “This is what you should pray.”

In Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014, pg. 118), Timothy Keller shares how Calvin insisted that “the Lord’s prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern. … The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.” Furthermore, Martin Luther paraphrased and personalized the Model Prayer every morning and evening as a starting point for his own, more personal prayers.

If we use the Model Prayer as a template, we can create probing questions from it. These questions will help us pray more personally and effectively. Let’s give it a try. Feel free to formulate your own questions based on what you know of Jesus’ teaching and God’s Will then reflect on the questions to supplement your prayer time.

v.9b  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

God is the Father of all who believe in Jesus, and He reigns as King from heaven. “Hallowed” means valuable or precious, and His name represents His reputation, the respect others attribute to Him.

How can I honor You today, Lord? How can I boost God’s reputation in my circles of influence?

v. 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In heaven, everyone does exactly what God wants them to do. The kingdom…well, that’s a hard one to define, but it has to do with God’s reign. Therefore, when we talk about the kingdom coming, we’re looking at God’s reign expanding here on earth.

How do I want earth to be more like heaven? This might be in your personal spiritual growth, in a specific relationship, or in the nation/world at large.

v. 11 Give us today our daily bread.

Maybe you have a gluten allergy, so the last thing you want to pray is that God will give you bread! I get that. If I was praying for bread, I’d pray for a good, crusty whole-grain French baguette. Just saying…

The bread, as you’ve probably heard before, represents our daily needs. When we pray this, we’re asking God to meet our physical needs for today, which is also an expression of trust that He will again meet our physical needs tomorrow. Think manna (Exodus 16).

Most of us, however, don’t lack for tangible things on a daily basis. So while we thank God for food, shelter, etc., we can ask Him to meet daily personal needs for things like reconciliation or self-control or wisdom.

What personal needs do I have today that can I present to Him?

v. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Our debts to God are our sins: all the times we’ve failed Him. Just as we ask Him for forgiveness, we’re reminded to forgive people who have offended or failed us.

What sin(s) do I need to confess today? Who do I need to forgive?

v. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

We know God doesn’t tempt people (James 1:13), and that testing will never exceed what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We do, however, find ourselves in tempting situations, often due to our own negligence. Satan takes advantage of those situations to entice us toward sin.

Where do I need help not to sin and/or not to give in to Satan?

I could have written so much more on each of these verses! There’s so much theology here, and so much for us to learn, but I wanted to get the questions to you. If you’re struggling with organization in your prayer life, try this for a day or two. I pray it helps you connect with God.

Jesus’ Model Prayer as questions will help us pray more personally and specifically. (click to tweet)

If there’s a section here that doesn’t make sense or something you want to suggest, please leave a comment below. Also, if there’s one question that’s particularly meaningful/helpful for you today, I’d love to hear about that, too!

We Are Kingdom Seeds

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. …

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  -Matthew 13:31, 33

Very, very small things that change everything: mustard seeds, yeast, those white floaties that carry dandelion seeds, viruses. Hmm…

Imagine

You decide you want to grow your own mustard, so you take a mustard seed or three out into the freshly-plowed field and choose a spot for your potential tree. You drop the seeds into the soil, then suddenly change your mind about the location. What is the possibility that you can find those seeds again? Almost nil. They are tiny and the same color as dirt. They have already blended into the soil.

Or you decide to make some bread, so you mix yeast, sugar, and a little salt into your dry flour (the African way). Just before pouring in the water, you realize you’ve put a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of yeast. Is it possible to pick the yeast back out of the flour? Not at all. You’d be better off either dumping the whole mix or adding a lot more flour.

That initially indistinguishable
change is invariably,
inextricably inevitable.

Once these things are in, they’re permanently in, and they begin to radically affect everything around them:  yeast rolls v/s crackers, shady garden v/s sun-baked field.  It takes a while—even years—but that initially indistinguishable change is invariably, inextricably inevitable.

What is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom is us, the followers of Christ living out His Will in community. So when He says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” or “like yeast,” He means we are like mustard seeds and yeast.

Infiltrate & Integrate

Yeast is alive in that little packet, but if you don’t use it fairly quickly, it expires. Literally; it dies. Then, when you try to ‘bloom’ your yeast in sugar water (the Western way), nothing happens. And if you continue with bread-making, expect very flat bread. (Trust me on this one. I know from experience.)

Our purpose lies in
our proximity to lostness.

Yeast doesn’t do anyone any good when it’s sitting in the package. Mustard seeds never grow into mustard trees when they’re kept on a shelf. Their purpose lies in their proximity to the thing that needs to change. They have to be in the soil or the flour. As Christ-followers, we have to be among “the world” (a vague term, I know) before our purpose becomes apparent.

Intertwine & Influence

Here’s the dangerous part. We think integration and identification mean we become like them. In appearance, in some habits, this may be true. Remember, you can’t pick mustard seeds out of the dirt or yeast out of the flour. But even though we’re mixed, we are different. When we stay grounded in the Word and focused on His glory, they will be attracted to the love, kindness, and honesty of our lives. Then we begin to change them. For spiritually mature believers, there’s no reason to be afraid to intertwine your life with a non-believer’s. (Read my post, Friends and Influence, for the balance on this discussion. There are limits.)

At first, it won’t make much difference, but a mustard tree can grow to twenty feet tall and just as wide, with branches close to the ground. Yeast works within an hour or two, causing the dough to double or triple in size, then it continues to influence the bread until it’s baked.

Just keep coming back. Just
keep living the Christ-life.

At first, that time you spend with your neighbor on a Saturday afternoon or that lunch break you take with a coworker probably won’t make much difference. Just keep coming back. Just keep living the Christ-life with and in front of those you know.

Here’s another thing… Frustrated by the size of your standing in the Kingdom? Want to be something bigger, more important? It’s the insignificant  size of the mustard seeds and the yeast that make them so acceptable. (Like what I did there with yet another ‘i’ word?)

We infiltrate the kingdom of this world (Ephesians 2:2).

We integrate ourselves into the systems and relationships around us (John 17:18).

We intertwine our lives with our neighbors and coworkers (Matthew 22:39).

We influence their lives through our identity in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15-16, Philippians 2:5).

We are the Kingdom.

Please don’t miss this. Our purpose for being on earth is to glorify God by expanding His Kingdom. We are called to be change agents, miniscule but mighty!

For further reading: Flesh, by Hugh Halter.

Kingdom Seeds: We are called to be change agents, miniscule but mighty! (click to tweet)

Aren’t you glad Jesus gave us word pictures to help us understand spiritual things? How do these two analogies (the mustard seed and the yeast) help you in your faith walk? Please share a little in the comments below!

Such as These

to such as theseFor a long time, I’ve been puzzled by this idea of us (adults) becoming like little children. Just look at these quotes from Jesus:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”   –Matthew 11:25

“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”   –Mark 10:14

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”   –Matthew 18:3-4

When I think of little children, my first descriptive term is “innocent”—not a term that describes me well. My past has too many sins attached to it. Of course, I have been declared innocent in the judicial sense because Jesus took my guilt, and I live in that assurance every day, but experientially?  Well, too much has gone in through these eyes and ears; too many bad things have passed out through this mouth and these hands. In many ways, I don’t even want the return of that childlike naiveté because my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) hammered me into the Christ-follower that I have become. So there must be more to this concept of “childlike” than innocence . . .

At least I’m in good company, puzzling over things Jesus said. Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4). Like me, he had questions. So I do what Nicodemus did: I take my questions to Jesus. Here’s what I discovered in reading through the Gospels.

Children occupy a low position in society.

Perhaps more in Jesus’ day than in ours, children just weren’t that important. They didn’t sit at the heads of tables. They did the household jobs that adults didn’t want to do. They didn’t interrupt conversations. Remember that old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”? Maybe it started there in Israel. This is why Jesus’ pointed to a child for a contrasting example when the disciples argued over who was more important (Mark 9:33-37; I just wrote about that from a parenting perspective *here*). This is why He praised those who would make the effort to give a child a cup of water rather than tell the child to get it himself (Matthew 10:42).

When we Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [our]selves (Philippians 2:3), we position ourselves like children in society. Jesus modeled this attitude when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16), and in Luke 22:26, He says, The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Who are “the youngest” but the children?

Children are guileless.

Don’t ask a little kid what he thinks unless you really want to know. They haven’t learned to couch the truth in the “little white lies” that we call kindness. I think (just me here, I can’t confirm this with Scripture) this is one of the reasons Jesus liked children. They liked Him, too. As I was studying to write this post, I came upon this short conflict in the temple just before Jesus’ arrest. Look:

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”  -Matthew 21:15-16

Those kids didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to say things like that in the temple, in front of the priests and teachers! They just spoke truth. (I bet their parents were mortified!)

Confession and repentance are necessary in initiating and maintaining a relationship with Jesus. As adults, we try to excuse, justify, de-emphasize, or just plain ignore our sin. But entering the Kingdom requires brutal honesty on our part: “Yep. I did it even though I knew better.” This one is a real challenge for me to just open my heart up to Jesus like a little kid who runs around naked, completely unaware of the impropriety.

Children act like those they admire.

They play house; they go to work; they sit with a book on their laps and look serious when they can’t actually read. Children pick up the habits and even the speech patterns of their parents.

Paul encouraged the Ephesians, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1). As we emulate Jesus in our attitudes and actions, we become more like Him. What begins intentionally evolves into habit…even nature.

Children trust absolutely.

A Father says, “Come on Baby, jump! I’ll catch you.” and the little girl never doubts for a second that He will do it. That kind of confidence isn’t built on logic or experience. It’s built on love. The child who declares, “My dad can whup your dad!” hasn’t considered the size or fighting experience of either father. He just knows his dad is unstoppable. Oswald Chambers said, “The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next” (MUHH 4/30).

And that’s what Jesus asks us to do. Come to Him. Jump—before you have all the answers, before you’ve considered every alternative and repercussion.  This kind of trust says, “I don’t see any possible way for this to work, but I know You, Jesus, are leading me to do it, so here goes!”

little children

To those who embrace humility,

to those who are unflinchingly honest,

to those who emulate Jesus,

to those who flagrantly and unreasonably trust Him…

the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (click to tweet)

God’s Priority: His Kingdom

God’s priority is the Kingdom, not my personal comfort or convenience. Remember when Jesus stopped by Bethesda, that pool where people could be healed (John 5:1-15)? There were many disabled people there, yet Jesus picked out this one old guy, walked up to him, and healed him without any indicator of the man’s faith and without anyone asking Him to do it. Why this one, particular man? Why did he walk past many others (I’m assuming) who were younger, more attractive, more deserving, or just plain louder?

Because of who God made this man to be. Because Jesus knew he would obey and handle the coming confrontation with the Jews (vv. 10-11) in a certain way.

He didn’t heal the man because of anything the man deserved.

He didn’t heal the man because He felt sorry for him. (I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t compassionate, just that His primary reason for healing wasn’t compassion. If it was, He would have healed everyone at that pool, not just this one guy.)

He didn’t even heal the man so that the man would worship Him.

So, why? He healed the man because He already had a plan in place for that man’s life.

Let me try to say it one more time: Jesus didn’t heal the man primary to help the man; Jesus healed the man to further Jesus’s own glory. The fact that the man could walk and live a better life was almost a by-product of the situation.

Whenever the Holy Spirit sees an opportunity to glorify Jesus through you, He will take your entire being and set you ablaze with glowing devotion to Jesus Christ. -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (2 July).

That’s how it is for each of us, too.  We aren’t saved so that God can give us these awesome, adventurous lives.  We aren’t saved because we somehow deserve it or because we believe harder than someone else.  He saved me because He already had a plan in place for my life.  Read this story alongside part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34, Seek first His kingdom.  Furthering His Kingdom is more important to Him than how I feel, what blessings I get, or what sufferings I must endure.  (Read The Sheep and the Grapes for more about this.)

First the Kingdom, then the rest falls in place.

May I look at my life the same way He does.

The primary purpose of Jesus’ miracles was God’s glory, not the healed one’s comfort. (click to tweet)