Sunday, November 25, 2012

Matthew 16:24-25

"Then Jesus said to His disciples: 'if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.  But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it"

Are you a disciple of Christ?  If so, have you contemplated the costs associated with your decision to follow Christ?  Have you deemed the price worth paying in exchange for the honor of being His follower? Or are you frustrated because Christianity was presented to you as the means by which your problems would go away and instead you have seen your struggle intensify?  Tragically, Christianity is falsely viewed as a magic wand which once in hand will result in the eradication of all adverse circumstances.  Jesus did not present this same rosy picture of discipleship when He deemed it necessary for His disciples to deny themselves and follow Him.   Self-denial is a requirement for discipleship for the priorities of God are in stark contrast to the priorities of man and each of us must choose between the two.  Either we will follow our own worldly desires and ambition or we will embrace the priorities of God and conform to the righteous standards of Christ.  Jesus made it clear that it is incumbent upon the believer to understand and accept the cost of discipleship prior to his decision (Luke 14:27-30).  The Christian is assured a life of suffering, hardship, and adversity if he makes the great commitment to be a disciple of Christ.  The journey is hard, but the reward is greater as Paul made clear in his letter to the Romans, "....we are children of God, and if children then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:17-18).  A future eternal inheritance awaits the faithful believer who endures the trials of discipleship.  The question posed to each of us is whether the future eternal glory that awaits us is worth the temporal struggle of the present.
Consider God's message to Ananias who was hesitant to approach Saul of Tarsus following his conversion on the Damascus road: "But the Lord said to him: 'Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake (Acts 9:15-16)".  The first thing that Paul had to understand prior to his embarking on the work that God had for him was to understand the suffering that he would have to endure.  Paul was not used to a life of struggle and adversity for he came from great wealth and was well educated .  Paul would have to deny himself  and all his worldly acquisitions in order to enter into a life of discipleship.  Paul chronicled his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:22-33 so that he would be able to offer the following conclusion regarding his life: "Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10)". Paul accepted the costs of discipleship and rejoiced in them! 
Don't let another moment pass without considering the issue of discipleship. Familiarize yourself with the costs and make the decision that they are worth the honor of serving Him with your life and the excitement of knowing that future glory awaits you.  Give yourself entirely to God by submitting your thinking to the authority of His Word.  Align your priorities with His and center your ambition on the work that God puts before you and you will find yourself drawing nearer to God with every passing day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

1 Peter 1:6-7

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ"

What trial are you currently facing in your life?  Perhaps you are facing financial hardship or you are grieving due to the death of a loved one.  Maybe you or someone you love is experiencing a physical setback or a loved one has made bad decisions and is suffering the consequences.  There is no greater validation that we are drawing nearer to God than that which comes when we face adversity in our lives.  Just as intense heat brings about the purity of gold, so too is the purity of our faith the result of the fiery trials we face in our lives.We are free to rejoice in the temporary hardships of life when we are more oriented to the reality of God and His provision that ourselves and our suffering.  When we trust in God and obey His commands we become equipped to see His provision in the midst of our struggle.

Consider the predicament of the Israelites as they were backed up against the Red Sea and the strongest army in the world was in pursuit.  As the Israelites stared at Pharaoh’s army drawing near and then turned around and viewed the body of water behind them, they were overcome with fear and they said to Moses: “is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness…” (Exodus 14:11).  Their anger at Moses was the result of their lack of orientation to the provision of God which had been in plain view since they left the bondage of Egypt: “And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on they way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21).  God had led them to the spot where they were at specifically so they could trust in Him and see His provision.  Had they looked up they would have seen the pillar of cloud across the Red Sea indicating that somehow God was going to bring them across to safety.  Instead, however their focus was on Pharaoh’s army.  They elevated the human problem above the Divine solution!  This is what we do when we allow the sufferings of this world to overtake our thinking so that we can’t see the provision of God.  Exodus 13:18 states that: “God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea…..”  In this same way God leads us to adversity and then He leads us through adversity.  Our responsibility is to trust Him through these difficult times so that our faith will mature and He will be glorified.

When we face undeserved suffering we have a choice.  We can allow ourselves to be overcome with fear and panic or we can rejoice and take comfort in the provision of God.  Imagine how the Israelites must have felt when they saw the Red Sea part and they walked through it.  What were they thinking when they looked behind them and saw the sea engulf the Egyptian army?  They had missed a great opportunity to trust God.  Only by trusting in God during times of suffering will we draw nearer to Him in our Christian walk.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Galatians 5:25

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit”

Have you recently disappointed yourself?  Did you lose your temper and get angry with someone?  Perhaps you failed to take advantage of an opportunity to present the Gospel to an unbeliever? Maybe you neglected to take the time to encourage a fellow believer?  Honest reflection on such failed opportunities surely led you to recognize your weakness and vulnerability to worldly thinking.  How could you fall so short of God’s expectations when you desire so deeply to serve and honor Him? Paul explained his struggle with this very thing: “For what I am doing, I do not understand.  For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do (Rom. 7:15)”.   Such failures are not rooted in a lack of will; they are the result of your own inadequacy.  Paul’s point in Galatians 5:25 is to emphasize that in the same manner in which our salvation was dependent not on ourselves but God, so too is our daily Christian walk. The fruit bearing Christian walks not by means of the flesh but in dependence on God the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). 

Consider Peter who was surely sincere when he proudly proclaimed to Jesus on the eve of His death that he would never deny him and then proceeded to deny him three times as Jesus predicted.  Peter had a strong will to serve his Master and proclaim His name to the world; however, when the time came Peter was too weak to even admit that he knew Jesus because he was afraid of what could happen to him. This same Peter responded to a confused crowd in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost by raising his voice for all to be heard and proudly proclaiming the truth of what happened that day. He affirmed that Jesus had risen and was seated at the right hand of God the Father.  What had changed?  How did the same man who could not even admit that he knew Christ to two servant girls and a small crowd give such a powerful message to thousands of people from all over the world in Jerusalem?  The answer is found in Acts 1:8 when Jesus commanded the disciples to do what Peter had done and explained by what means they would do it: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth".  Peter’s past failures were the result of his fleshly weakness whereas the success which he achieved on the day of Pentecost when the first three thousand believers were added to the church was the result of his reliance on God the Holy Spirit. Our success in our Christian walk, like Peter’s depends on whether or not we rely on ourselves or God!

We rely on God when we prayerfully go about our day submitting our thoughts to the Word of God as it is written on our hearts.  When opportunities arise we must be oriented to God’s priorities rather than our own.  In those moments when we feel like succumbing to the weaknesses of the flesh we must turn to prayer and ask God to give us the strength to submit to His will rather than our own.  We are to humbly go about our day, recognizing the inadequacy of our own power and ability and our complete dependence on God.  Only when we completely submit our thinking to the Will and Word of God will we be able to successfully draw nearer to Him.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

James 1:2-3

James 1:2-3- “Consider it all joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

Are you struggling?  Perhaps you are dealing with financial difficulties? Maybe you are having a health problem?  Has someone close to you gone astray?  We are all facing adversity in one area or another.  Scripture clearly teaches that the Christian who endures will surely have done so through adversity.  The basis for our rejoicing during times of suffering is not by deceiving ourselves into thinking that our adversity is not real nor are we to employ the worldly mechanic of overcoming adversity through positive thinking.  The joyful Christian recognizes not just the command to rejoice but the rationale behind the command which is that such testing produces growth in our faith.  God puts trials and testing in our life in order to mold and shape us into willing servants. In the same manner in which the athlete suffers through training that he be prepared for competition, so too must we suffer in order to be prepared for the work which God places before us. If our objective is to draw nearer to God, then our desire to become who God wants us to be will overwhelm the struggle of our temporal circumstances. Like the victorious athlete who recognizes that the glory of victory is worth the pain and suffering of training, the believer is to be oriented to future glory not temporal suffering.  Paul clarifies the believer’s destination in Romans 8:18- “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us”.

Consider the incredible truth revealed to us by the writer of Hebrews concerning our Lord, Jesus Christ.  “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).  The word translated “perfect” does not mean sinless perfection but maturity or completeness for Christ did not have to grow into sinless perfection, he was sinless from birth.  Jesus had to endure adversity in His life in order to be prepared for the work that God the Father had placed before Him.  The believer should be comforted during trials in knowing that just as the pioneer of our Christian walk had to endure suffering in order to be made complete, so too must we suffer that we be one with Him: “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren…” ( Heb. 2:11).  Imagine if you had the opportunity to stand side by side with Christ and suffer with Him!  If given the choice between temporal comfort or suffering with Christ, surely you would choose to suffer with Him given what you know about Him.  Then consider- that is exactly the opportunity that you are presented every time you face adversity as Paul explains: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Rom. 8:17).  The believer has the opportunity to share in both the suffering and the glory of Jesus Christ.

Orient your thinking to the eternal realities of your relationship with Jesus Christ.  Recognize that if Christ had to endure adversity in order to be made complete, how much more do we need adversity in our lives?  Consider that God is molding and shaping you to be Christ like and as a result you will share in the glory which is to come.  Weigh this against the temporal discomfort of your struggle and ask yourself whether or not it is worth it.  Considering this reality, how could we do anything but rejoice!  Rejoicing in our suffering will enable us to draw nearer to God.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

1 Thessalonians 5:14

Now we exhort you brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all

Is there someone in your life that you have given up on?  Perhaps a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor who has rejected and maybe even been hostile toward God and His Word.  Might you have reached the point where you try and avoid interaction with this person when possible and tolerate him or her when necessary? While there was a time when you were eager to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ by way of your example and your words, you have now given up trying and even praying for what you have deemed a "lost cause". We all have people like this in our life and we all struggle to overcome the rejection that has confronted us each time we try to express our love with our words and actions.  We wince when met with this person's overt antagonism toward Jesus Christ.  Paul's exhortation to the believers in Thessalonica richly pertains to us today as we struggle to be patient with those who are unruly, weak, and fainthearted.  By patience, Paul is not offering a substitute for the great command of our Lord and Savior when He said: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34)".  Patience is not toleration but waiting patiently for the next opportunity for you to love as Christ loves you!  It is not for us to deem someone a "lost cause" for this is God's business.

Paul, perhaps more than any other believer in history would know about "lost causes".  In his own words to the believers in Galatia Paul provides some dark autobiographical details about his life in unbelief: "For you have heard of my former manner of conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it (Gal. 1:13)".  Paul made it his life's work to eradicate as many Christians as he could. While he had no doubt heard many times that which the Messiah had said and done, he was unimpressed and clearly hostile.  Saul of Tarsus in the eyes of the Christians of his day was the ultimate "lost cause".  Then in a moment in time the Truth convicted Saul of Tarsus when Christ brought him to his knees on the Damascus road.  Paul was convicted, he was now a believer in Jesus Christ!  This "lost cause" who was responsible for persecuting and murdering countless Christians was now one of the brethren.  Who would have ever thought to speak the Gospel to Saul of Tarsus?  The answer is Jesus Christ, Himself.  Now that Paul had received Christ as his Savior his fellow believers were sure to welcome him into the faith, right!   Not exactly, for when Paul entered Jerusalem "he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple (Acts 9:26)".  How welcoming would you be if the same person who tortured, tormented, and killed your friends and family members now wanted to count himself as one of your brothers?  Paul was now being pursued by the Pharisees who viewed him as a traitor and sought to kill him and he was being rejected by his fellow believers.  Enter Barnabas: "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.  And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and that He had spoken to him and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27)".  Paul was neither a lost cause to God nor God's servant Barnabas.  

We are all lost causes apart from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We are all weak, unruly, and fainthearted apart from the grace of God which is sufficient for us.  As you sit down this afternoon to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, remember that there are no "lost causes" on this earth.  Consider the life of Saul of Tarsus and compare him to the person in your life that you have deemed unworthy of your efforts- there is no comparison- Saul was the worst of the worst!  Engage this person (or more likely people) in your life who needs the truth.  Pray for this person, maybe even pray with this person.  Set aside your trepidation that you be rejected or embarrassed and instead orient your thinking to that of Christ, Himself!  Remember Barnabas who welcomed Paul and ensured that Paul was received by other believers. Heed the words of Paul to be patient with others in order that you love as Christ loves you!  Forgo the notion that anyone in your life is a lost cause and take the opportunity that Christmas Day provides to sit down and engage with others who are in need of the Truth! Don't hesitate!  Love them, pray for them, encourage them, and tell them the truth.  Merry Christmas!