Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our God-Assigned Responsibility

~ Will We Be Unashamed to Meet Christ Face-To-Face ~

Service, or ministry to the body of Christ, is not optional for the Christian—It is something which is expected of a Christian who is walking worthy of his calling (1 Peter 4:10). At physical birth we were all born with various natural abilities. At spiritual birth we were all born with various spiritual gifts. We use both in our labor of ministry to those around us. Look at some aspects of the realities of our position and calling.

Our Appointment ~ We serve in Christ’s place as His ambassadors while He is away preparing our future mansions. – “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Our Task ~ We are to be consistent in our witness to others about the Truth, even in this day when so many do not believe there is any ultimate truth. “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). “This is the Truth and everyone should accept it. We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe it, for our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted His salvation” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).

Our Goal ~ We are to grow in maturity as we work towards enlightening all people about the Truth of Jesus Christ and His saving work for us on the Cross of Calvary. “We preach about Jesus Christ, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the Truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15).

Our Responsibility ~ We are accountable for making the riches of salvation through Jesus Christ known to those around us. But it is God Himself who is responsible for the results. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

Our Resources ~ We are “complete in Him” and have been given all we need to accomplish the task which He has given us (see Colossians 2:10 and 2 Peter 1:3). “If any lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” ( James 1:5). “Our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Our Special Helper ~ The Holy Spirit provides direct assistance as we minister for Him (and in other areas of our lives as well). “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groans which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

Our Tradeoff ~ We minister on His behalf in response to His love to us—however, it turns out to be a great bargain on our part. “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Our Reward ~ God is light and we will be with Him forever without any night or darkness of any kind. In that day nothing will ever diminish in its brilliance and glory. “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). “When the Chief Shepherd appears, we will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).

CONTEMPLATE: Since God has provided all of this to help us accomplish the tasks He has given us, what excuse could we give for not following through when we meet Him who gave His all for us?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Cost of Discipleship

~ Must You Leave All? ~

Within Christian circles there is much confusion about the meaning of discipleship. At the heart of this confusion is a misunderstanding of Luke 14:26-27: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Analysis ~ Any look at discipleship should begin with the most basic of fundamentals. The word “disciple” simply means pupil or learner. It is rather startling to some when they realize there is nothing in the word that implies sacrifice.

The word “disciple” occurs in the four Gospels 240 times in both singular and plural forms. In the book of Acts it occurs 32 times. Interestingly, the word “disciple” is not found at all in any of the epistles. We should keep this point in mind.

The four Gospel writers use the term in both a broad sense and a narrow sense. In the broad sense it is used of those who in varying degrees became Jesus’ followers—followers of His teaching and of His miracles (Luke 6:12-18). For examples, consider Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-39).

In a narrow sense, the term is used of those who followed Jesus physically (Mark 1:17-18). In other words they were disciples who literally and physically left their families and possessions in order to follow Jesus. The twelve disciples are the clearest illustration of this group.

Certain conditions had to be met in order to follow Jesus in this narrow way. We read, for example, that one must hate his family and bear his own cross (Luke 14:26-27). The word “hate” denotes a relative term—to love Christ even more than family. “His cross” in this context carries the idea of willingness to bear whatever comes as a consequence—even death if necessary—for Christ’s sake. This high-intensity level of discipleship was not unique to Jesus’ followers since we know it was practiced by others as well. Examples would include John the Baptist and the Pharisees—they had disciples who literally followed them through Palestine (John 1:35; Matthew 22:16).

In the book of Acts, the word “disciple” is primarily used to mean a member of the local Christian church. In Acts 14:21 the verb form is used in reference to making converts. There is no occurrence in the book of Acts that indicates a disciple was one who must sacrifice family, or finances, or bear his cross in order to be called a disciple. This coupled with the fact that the word “disciple” doesn’t occur in any of the epistles strongly suggests that “forsaking all” in order to be a true disciple was limited to the days of the historical Jesus.

Lessons ~ In Biblical times there were disciples who followed Jesus in the narrow sense of the term—who were uniquely related to Jesus’ earthly life. To follow Christ in this way meant one would leave family, home, friends, occupation, and possessions. These “disciples” literally followed Jesus on an itinerant ministry. To follow Him in that sense Jesus stated they must forsake everything. The disciples of Jesus knew very well what the expectations were. They knew that it could cost them their lives. They were prepared to take up their cross and follow Jesus. These expectations were conditions for following the literal and historical Jesus.

To impose this kind of expectations on Christians today is to have a misconception of discipleship and to distort what it means to follow Christ.

Application ~ Consideration of the above does not change the Christian’s responsibility for following Christ. It simply shifts the emphasis from a physical following type of discipleship to a mental, emotional, and spiritual following of Jesus and His commands. When we understand this vital difference, it reduces the gap between some false expectations and Christ’s desire for us today.

Today we do not have a literal physical Jesus to follow. Therefore, there isn’t the same demand to physically leave home, loved ones, occupations, and possessions. Today, there is a spiritual demand to follow Christ—in some cases that is more difficult than physical separation. But we are not called to separate ourselves from our family, occupations, or possessions. We are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2) as we live with our families, carry on our occupations, and in the use of our possessions. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Here is the paradox, while we are in the process of loving the Lord as transformed people, it is quite possible our love for God will cause our family and friends to leave us, or for us to change our occupation, or to forsake our possessions. However, if we do this, it will not be a condition for discipleship but rather a result of discipleship.

Summary ~ Discipleship today involves seeking God’s rule and righteousness in all aspects of our life (Matthew 6:33). Jesus is not reigning physically in the world today. But we are assured that one day we will be able to witness a great event when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Until then, Jesus reigns spiritually in the hearts of those who love and obey Him. The rule of discipleship today is “if you love Me keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Our response to what God has done for us through Christ on the Cross is to make a presentation of our life to God (Romans 12:1).

A point not to be missed is that this presentation is not a decision to leave family and friends or to forsake all. It is a presentation of a life. It is a presentation to be. Discipleship therefore is a process. This process includes a negative struggle with the world, “do not be conformed to the world” and a positive experience of transformation, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

CONTEMPLATE: “The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That's what I'm working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me” (Colossians 1:27-29, The Message).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can’t Find a Good Church?

~ If You Find a Perfect Church, Please Don’t Join It! ~

Many sincere Christians in North America and other “developed” countries are having a difficult time finding a local church which meets not only their needs but more importantly fits the New Testament pattern of what a church should be! They are not seeking a perfect church but rather an acceptable church.

This subject received national attention recently when well-known Roman Catholic novelist Anne Rice announced on Facebook (July 2010) that she had given up on organized Christianity—but maintained her Christian beliefs. Her decision mirrors a national trend in North America. Does the Bible speak to our current situation? I believe it clearly does.

First, God designed Christians and the local church as being interdependent and needing one another. This is a key element of the Biblical teaching that the Church is made up of one body (Colossians 1:18), one building (1 Corinthians 3:9), and one bride (2 Corinthians 11:2). Each is incomplete without all its components. Anyone who is serious about following God’s will (God’s desires) will earnestly seek to find a local church of which they can be a meaningful participant.

The church is a gift from God for which assembly is required. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25, emphasis added). In other words during the end-times, just prior to the Second Coming, the Word of God says that it is all the more important that individual believers be a part of a local church.

Second, the Word of God recognizes the decline of the local churches prior to the end of this day of grace in which we live. That is the message to the last of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. … To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"'" (Revelation 3:14-22).

It is my conviction that given these two passages of Scripture (and the whole of the Word of God) it is the responsibility of every Christian to make every possible effort to find a local assembly of believers where they can fellowship, pray, worship, and serve together. If you are having trouble finding a local church, pray earnestly and keep searching—God may be teaching you something special during this time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

7 Consequences of Sin

~ Lessons from Genesis 3 & 4 ~

Man’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden upset his relationship with God, and today a Christian’s disobedience interferes with the joy of his fellowship with the Lord. Sin also disrupts peace in society by breaking human relationships. A common example in our society is sin in the life of a husband or wife, destroying the atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence that is so essential in making a truly happy home.

You and I were born with a propensity to sin because of the original sin of Adam and Eve. Sin always has devastating results in one form or another—sometimes the results are not evident immediately. Below are seven consequences of sin found in Genesis chapters three and four.

Shame (Genesis 3:7) ~ “And as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, suddenly they became aware of their nakedness, and were embarrassed and ashamed of what they had done. So they strung fig leaves together to cover themselves around the hips.” Prior to sin there was no shame.

Fear (3:10) ~ “Adam answered God by saying, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’” Suddenly, a great relationship had deteriorated and a barrier existed. Today our fellowship with God is broken by unconfessed sin (see 1 John 1:9).

Buck Passing (3:12) ~ “Then Adam said, ‘The woman You put here with me—she is the one who gave me some fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.’” Adam is not only blaming Eve but indirectly blaming God for giving him a partner! Sin has a very real way of distorting our thinking.

Pain and Sorrow (3:16) ~ “To Eve God replied: ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” Sin has consequences! One day the results of Calvary will be complete and sin and its effects will be forever gone.

Pride (4:3) ~ “After the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD.” Cain’s pride is seen in offering his gift to God. One of the distinctions between the offerings of Cain and Abel is that Cain did not come by faith but rather in his own strength. Cain came to God on the basis of his own works—he came on the basis of his accomplishments. (Abel’s offering was a sacrifice which looked forward to the coming sacrifice of the Lamb of God.) Pride is one of the roots of all sin and pride is what keeps man from confessing sin.

Anger and Depression (4:5) ~ “But God had no respect for Cain’s offering. So Cain was exceedingly angry and indignant, and became sad and depressed.” Cain throws a pity party and becomes distraught. His shenanigans were not successful. Instead of learning at this point and making corrections, his sin continued to carry him into even greater sin.

Murder (4:8) ~ “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let's go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and murdered him there.” Unconfessed sin leads to greater sin.

Do you understand why bad things happen to good people? Do you know why our society has so much crime, unjust suffering, and pain? God’s Word has a one-word answer: sin!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sin and You

~ Sin Effects Your Body, Your Soul, and Your Spirit ~

Comment: The following was spoken by Jim Elliot prior to his leaving for the mission field, and is quoted from the book “JIM ELLIOT: A Christian Martyr Speaks to You” edited by myself.

Background: In early 1956 Christian missionaries Roger Youderian, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Jim Elliot lost their lives on “Palm Beach” on the banks of the Curaray River in a steamy jungle in Ecuador. They were brutally killed by an unreached tribe they had worked long and hard to reach with God’s love.

Many thousands of individuals have come to know Christ in a personal and living way and thousands of others have altered the direction of their lives as a result of the shocking massacre and the many articles and books written about it. Even the Auca Indians (Waoni) who thrust those fatal spears have seen a significant portion of their number come to know Jesus Christ.

“Well, what does sin do to your spirit? Just as sin is a cancer in the body, so it is corrosion to the soul, and to the spirit it is a callus. Sin makes us callous. Sin solidifies our attitudes.

“The book of Hebrews provides insight. Notice verse twelve of Hebrews chapter three. ‘Take heed, brethren, lest there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief and falling away from the living God. But exhort one another, day by day, so long as it is called today.’ Catch this. ‘Lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.’

“Hardened. Your spirit will become solidified. In other words, it won’t be pliable to the will of God. The will of God will have no effect upon your spirit. God’s desire for you will just bounce off your spirit like a rock. Sin can do that to your spirit, so that your mind can’t apprehend the truths of God. It will harden your spirit. It solidifies your thinking.

“Sin will just make you go out and grit your teeth against everything that is righteous. Sin can do that in a Christian. Therefore, Paul tells us, brethren, exhort one another while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

“Notice ‘the deceitfulness of sin.’ Sin is deceitful, that is it fools you. When you think you haven’t got any sin, mark it down, you’re sinning.

“You say, ‘I have no need to fight sin.’ Be careful, sin is a deceiver. Sin is an awful deceiver, a great deceiver. He’ll tell you he’s not there, and reside in your heart. He’ll harden your heart and say you’re becoming well-balanced and well-rounded. Sin will stifle your affections for Christ, and tell you that you’re growing up and maturing and getting away from kids’ stuff such as being sentimental about God. Sin will take your body and ruin it!”

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