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.