This is Discipleship – Part Two

By Anton Bosch – Pastor at Sunvalley Community Church – Los Angeles

This is Discipleship

Many techniques, programs and systems in the modern church are mistaken as discipleship. While those techniques may contain elements of discipleship, they are not the authentic thing. (See Part 1: “This is not Discipleship.”) This obviously begs the question: what is discipleship and what did Jesus mean when He gave us the Great Commission?

In spite of the King James’ use of the word “teach” for mathēteúō, all other translations, commentaries, and dictionaries are agreed that the word means more than simply teaching intellectual facts:

mathēteúō. Intransitively this word means “to be or become a pupil.” One reading of Mt. 27:57 has it with reference to Joseph of Arimathea; he is said to be a disciple of Jesus. In a distinctive transitive use (Mt. 13:52; 28:19; Acts 14:21) the NT also uses the term for “to make disciples.” Behind this sense possibly stands the NT belief that a call is the basis of discipleship of Jesus

μαθητεύωb: to cause someone to become a disciple or follower of—‘to make disciples, to cause people to become followers.’ πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ‘go then, to all peoples and make them (my) disciples’ Mt 28:19.

Learners and Followers

Implicit in the word mathēteúō are the concepts of learners and followers.

The word “disciple” means above all “learner” or “pupil.” The emphasis in the commission thus falls not on the initial proclamation of the gospel but more on the arduous task of nurturing into the experience of discipleship, an emphasis that is strengthened and explained by the instruction “teaching them to keep all that I have commanded” in v 20a.

These three words—learners, pupils and teaching—sound synonymous, but they are not. Pupils do not necessarily learn, and teaching someone does not mean that that person has actually learned anything. Paul speaks of those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7). Such are neither disciples, learners, nor followers.

Besides the Twelve, Jesus also had other disciples during His earthly ministry (Matt 27:57; John 6:66; 7:3; Acts 1:15). Before Jesus, John had disciples. Disciples were simply people who followed a teacher and learned from the teacher. One can speak of the disciples of other rabbis or even of Greek philosophers. In all of these cases the purpose was for the disciple to learn both theory (theology) and practice (character and behavior) from the teacher. Disciples would later gather other disciples around them and so perpetuate the teaching. It is really quite simple and yet, as we have shown, very few practice true discipleship today. So let’s look at what true discipleship really should be.

A Relationship

The first thing that strikes me about Jesus’ disciples is that they had a personal relationship with their Master. Based on this personal relationship, the Master knew each of His disciples personally. As a result, He deals with and teaches each of the disciples based on their unique needs, personality and characteristics. Jesus related to Peter, John and Thomas in very different ways reflecting their unique relationship to Him. Although the Bible does not use the term disciple(s) after the book of Acts, it is clear that Paul had the same kind of relationship with Timothy, Silas, Titus and a number of others. Once again, the relationship was very personal. Both Paul and Jesus lived with their followers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The idea of a disciple who does not have a relationship with the teacher, and who is a stranger to the teacher, is a contradiction in terms.

The same therefore holds true today. We cannot make disciples of those with whom we are not in a personal relationship. This automatically limits the number of people one teacher/leader can shepherd. It also excludes the idea of professional councilors or absentee pastors, or disciples that shy away from personal relationships, as well as those who attend church for an hour a week. How can a pastor of a church of a thousand know, and have a relationship with, each of the members? Several years ago I went to see the pastor of a neighboring church about folk who had left our church for his. He did not even know about their existence until he looked them up on his computer, only to discover they had been attending his church for three months!

The reason for this personal relationship is that part of discipling is teaching each one according to their individual needs, background and potential. A one-size-fits-all discipling package simply does not exist, and therefore discredits all off-the-rack discipleship manuals and programs as bogus.

Many multiplication systems have been based on discipleship. The theory is that each believer should have 12 disciples, and each disciple should have 12, etc. This is purely a multi-level marketing/pyramid scheme. Discipleship can never be forced and controlled by statistics because it is relational. And because discipleship is a relational and dynamic process, it can never be forced to comply with a statistical model. At times Paul had only one “disciple” travelling with him and at other times there were several. Neither Jesus nor Paul taught a numerical model, and it is evident that none of the Apostles attempted to recreate Jesus’ “model” of twelve disciples.

Submission to the Teacher

A vital aspect of the relationship between teacher and disciple is the willingness of the disciple to submit to the teacher. This is one of the main reasons very little discipling happens in the Free World these days. Modern Christians are just not willing to submit to leaders. Modern believers consider themselves above correction and on a par with everyone else. Generally, “submission” only occurs as long as things go well and the relationship is affirming. The moment admonition, rebuke or discipline is needed the believer tends to leave the relationship, and the church, and withdraws from the relationship.

But without this submission there is no basis for a learner/teacher, follower/leader relationship. The whole purpose of discipleship is for the teacher to train the disciple. This includes not just the transmission of ideas and knowledge but actually having a hand in the shaping of the character and behavior of the learner. Paul’s epistles are replete with instructions to rebuke, warn, correct, command, charge and admonish (2Tim 4:2; 1Thes 2:11; Col 1:28; Titus 1:13; Titus 2:15; etc.).

It goes without saying that the teacher may never overstep the bounds between legitimate and godly discipleship and heavy shepherding or abuse.

The first ingredient in the discipleship process then are disciples who want to learn and who want to follow.

Teachers With Dirty Hands

Just as you need those who are willing to learn, you need those who are willing to teach. But teaching is not just from the relative safety of the pulpit. True teachers are willing to get their hands soiled with the dirty diapers of babes in Christ. While there are many who want to preach, there are not many who want the hassle of discipling people.

Discipling is hard work. It means getting involved with people at a personal level, listening to their ideas, risking their anger when correcting them, repeating the same things over and over until the penny eventually drops. (Just think of how many times Jesus said the same things to His disciples and they still did not understand.) Discipling means feeling the pain of failure when those to whom you have become close end up falling, sometimes in the most terrible ways—think of Peter denying the Lord! Discipling means flying blind without the help of a carefully prepared script or manual. Preaching is relatively easy since the preacher is on his own turf, controls the situation and is not interrupted. Discipling provides none of those safeguards. The teacher has to think on his feet and respond to the questions, arguments and reactions of the disciple over whom he has no direct control. There is just no way of knowing ahead of time what the disciple is going to come up with, say or do, next. It is this lack of a controlled environment that scares many leaders and prevents them from descending from the pulpit and engaging on a personal level with learners. Discipling does not have regular hours because people live life 24 hours a day. The pastor who wants to work to a carefully prepared schedule does not qualify, nor will he survive in the rough and tumble unpredictable world of real discipling.

And it is this unwillingness to accept the discomfort and pain of being a spiritual parent to spiritual (often wayward) children that has resulted in so few true teachers being available to disciple true believers. Thus without learners who are willing to learn, and without teachers who are willing to teach, no discipleship can take place.

The Cross

In addition to willing and capable teachers, and disciples that are eager to learn, there is a third vital ingredient without which no discipleship can take place and that is the cross.

Jesus Himself made this an entry requirement for disciples: “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “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.” (Luke 14:25-27). In all three the Synoptics Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

This is not an optional extra for some disciples, it is essential for all disciples. Without the willingness of the follower to deny his own ideas, personality, desires, yea even his very self, he just cannot be a disciple. This is not because the Lord set an arbitrary standard, but because the essence of discipleship means the laying aside of self and being transformed into the likeness and image of Christ. This is not behavior modelling (see part 1), it is death (to self) and resurrection (in His image) on a daily basis.

No wonder Jesus had very few disciples. We expect it to be different for us, but it cannot be. In most cases where numbers of people are flocking to follow leaders the vital ingredient of the cross is missing. Hence the many things that are used as cheap substitutes for the cross.

Teaching How and What

Most teaching in modern churches is about the “what” of the faith, but discipleship is as much about the “how” as the “what.” This is just where the problem often lies. Seminaries teach the “what” and those who come out of those seminaries only understand the “what.” The “how” is learned at the feet of a true teacher and in the school of hard knocks. Obviously we do need to understand the “what” but without the “how” the “what” is of no value.

In the Great Commission, Jesus gives explicit instructions as to what needs to be taught in the process of making disciples: “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20).

Note that the command is to teach “to observe….” This is in contrast with “teaching to know….” The word “observe” literally means to do. The true disciple does what he was taught, thus head knowledge has to be translated into lifestyle and theory has to become practice. Very few Christians seem to know how to behave as Christians because they were never taught, neither in word nor by example. But that is what discipleship is really about. It is about becoming like Jesus (Romans 8:29) and becoming like Him is not about knowledge but it is about essence—who we are as evidenced through our lifestyle, values and actions.

Paul says: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;” (1 Thessalonians 2:10) and to Timothy: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God…”(1Tim 3:15). Behavior and conduct are simply not taught any longer, yet that is the very essence of Christianity. The world is constantly telling believers how they ought to act, but the church does not. It is no wonder then, that believers act more like the world than like Christ.

The art of casting an artificial fly on the end of a fly rod is not rocket science, yet one can read a dozen books about it without ever being able to master the simple skill. It is only when an experienced teacher demonstrates how to do it, and then allows you to practice while correcting your mistakes, that you will ever learn how to present an artificial fly to a fish. Christianity is the same. It was never intended to be learned only from reading, preaching or talking. Jesus showed His disciples how to live and to die, and then expected them to put into practice what He had taught through His example and by His words.

As a result, Luke writes his Gospel concerning “…all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”(Acts 1:1)

Word Based

Unless the personal involvement, setting an example, or active teaching is based on the Scriptures, it is simply some humanistic effort, management technique or philosophy. Paul says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The purpose of the doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction is to equip people for “every good work.” It is not merely for the sake of knowledge and, at the same time, is not good works based on some human philosophy. True discipleship is based on Scriptural principles that result in Godly living.

Discipleship at Home

Discipleship begins in the home. Parents are to disciple their children, teaching them by word and deed to be followers of Jesus Christ. But instead they choose to hire substitutes in the form of school teachers, Sunday school teachers, psychologists and an array of other hirelings. Meanwhile the parents are absent as they pursue their own selfish desires. These same absentee parents then turn around and blame everyone else when (not if) the child ends being more like the devil than Jesus.

Yet these same failed parents often want to be leaders in the church. Paul is emphatic that an elder must have proven his discipling skills at home (1Timothy 3:5). It is in the home that parents learn and develop discipling skills which are later used in the church. And it is in the home that children learn to be good followers and learners. It is not coincidental that the New Testament uses babes, children, and the process of growing to maturity as an analogy of the life of a Christian. There are therefore very real parallels between raising children and discipling believers. Both require the same skills, prayer, patience, observing, teaching, wisdom, correcting, encouraging, rebuking etc. Failure at home almost guarantees failure in the church.

Jesus and the Twelve

After three years with Jesus, His disciples had heard His teaching on every important subject. The fact that they did not understand much is irrelevant because, in time, the Holy Spirit would remind them of what they had learned (John 14:26). Not only had they heard His words but they had seen His life. They saw His relationship with His Father, how He reacted, how He handled different situations and people, how He dealt with weariness, frustration, temptation, anger and every other human experience.

When Jesus called them, they were a motley bunch of losers, but at the end of that time He was able to send them out as His Apostles (sent ones) to lay the foundation of the church. That was successful discipling. They knew what to do, how to act and how to react. Yes, they were still fallible men, but they had been discipled by Jesus and even their enemies could not deny that: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13).

Paul and Timothy

Paul had several disciples but the best of those was undoubtedly Timothy to whom Paul wrote, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions….” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Notice again the juxtaposition of “doctrine” and “manner of life.” Paul taught Timothy not only doctrine, but how to live. He taught him to live a life with a godly purpose, how to have faith in trials, how to endure pain, suffering and persecution, and how to fulfill his ministry.

Near the very end of Paul’s life he wrote to Timothy “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). Thus the pattern is perpetuated from one generation to the next.

We are not Jesus

But there is a vital difference between Jesus and us—Jesus made disciples of Himself but we do not make disciples of ourselves. Cult and other false leaders make people followers of themselves but true discipleship makes people followers of Jesus. Thirty times the book of Acts refers to “the disciples.” But never does it speak of disciples of Peter, John or Paul. “Disciples” was always understood to mean disciples of Jesus. A true teacher will always point men to Jesus and call men to follow Him—never to follow the teacher, his church, or some other human organization.

We are not called to clone or make copies of ourselves. We are to help people become like Jesus and to follow Him, and to ultimately learn from Him. The more those we teach resemble Him, the more successful they will be at making disciples.

Conclusion 

Discipleship is not a technique or system. It is a lifestyle and is the essence of our faith. In its absence believers and churches become more worldly and less Christ-like. In spite of the proliferation of theological books and knowledge, we have abandoned our roots and failed to obey the command to make disciples. For this reason, more than any other, the church in the West has simply become an organization and has lost its life and light.

“… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Spring Forward Time…

Yes, yes, yes! I know we must remember again to upset our sleep patterns and bodily habits and on this change we will “lose an hour of sleep.” Oh well, maybe some of us will find that lost hour by taking a nap Sunday afternoon and not at the 10:30am service! (hopefully, prayerfully…oh God get them here!!! Sorry that is a selfish prayer but I am selfish that way…lol)

But here’s the deal…a lot of days on the calendar are left besides this Sunday. I know you know that but I like to state the obvious sometimes. What about doing the Word, being in prayer, and fasting on a regular basis on those days? (Oh boy, I am preaching to myself here. I need to do more of this prayer and fasting stuff and stop feeding my face. Help me dear Lord – as I know one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. So Lord grow me up in this.)

Now, back to Sunday and Wednesday and small group Bible studies. What keeps us from being with God’s people? OURSELVES! Our lousy excuses which come from our passions that war within us! STOP IT I SAY! (to myself when I get fearful and slothful or a nasty combo of them both) Just do it! (James exhorts us to do this) Stop contemplating obedience and do it in His strength by His Spirit that He has poured out inside of you. Oh yes… you are not alone in this battle with passions. Jesus lives in us!!! Victory in Him! Lord build up our faith!!!

Oh Hallelujah!

PTL for the cross that means death not only of my sin debt but of my passions as I identify with His death and take my cross and follow Him daily…NOT JUST THIS SUNDAY!

In case you need further motivation…here are some lyrics from Cameron Dukes…one of my fav artists. You can download the song if you want and help support his gospel ministry…but here are the words: Read them and weep… or laugh!

Raindrop
One raindrop will stop 15 members from coming to church
One degree under 33 will freeze 32 members from coming to church (thats cold)
As much as He done for us
Is it so hard for us to wake up for church
Dont forsake the gathering
We can learn together we can pray together
one sitcom will stop us from 25 minutes of reading his word
What is the excuse we need to start studying to show ourselves approved
Rightly dividing the word of truth (the word of truth)
The only way we can grow is by studying His word (His word is true)
Jesus took 3 nails for me ( wheres my, wheres my, wheres my, graditude?)
Dont forsake the gathering (But when i come i come with an attitude)
How can you love someone you never seen (If you cant love someone in front of you)
Are you a saint?
Are you a aint?
Some of yall got me so confused
I heard somebody say (just cuz i dont go to church that dont mean i aint saved)
See you dont wanna join the family and learn the word so you can know how to behave
he said (i dont believe in that word it was written by a man and things have been changed)
Have you ever compared the originals to the same scriptures we read today?
he said (No) i dont think its fair for you to have that position without the facts
he said (dont push your religion on me)
i said dont push your religion on me right back
(well i dont trust in no Bible but i know that Jesus died for me)
well my Jesus told me to tell u the church is 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 16
So you say you christian i know imma christian but we dont have the same beliefs
I believe its the people like you that mess it up for the believers like me
Got emotional and said (man dont judge i was saved at a church in 93)
well did the preacher preach outa the same word that u dont believe was it the same word that set you free (whoa!)

One raindrop will stop 15 members from coming to church
One degree under 33 will freeze 32 members from coming to church (thats cold)
As much as He done for us
Is it so hard for us to wake up for church
Dont forsake the gathering
We can learn together we can pray together
Jesus took 3 nails for me ( wheres my, wheres my, wheres my, graditude?)
Dont forsake the gathering (But when i come i come with an attitude)
How can you love someone you never seen (If you cant love someone right in front of you)
Are you a saint?
Are you a aint?
Some of yall got me so confused

People put God in the back seat like a car seat
show up at every party and church on time hardly
im tryin to tell you that Christ is where my heart be
im wit God for the long hall like an RV
i aint conceided but i boast in God
christians be up and down like rollercoaster rides
do everyday based off emotions right
yall funny all jokes aside (man)
and everybody act like they rather live in sin
but he died for us so we can live for him
real saints in the church have become a minority
so what we need to do is make Christ a priority
you a saint or aint a leader or a side kick
Jesus is the pilot and we should be in the cockpit
riding shotgun wit Gods son
if we drive we gone wreck im talkin bout eternal death

Jesus took 3 nails for me ( wheres my, wheres my, wheres my, graditude?)
Dont forsake the gathering (But when i come i come with an attitude)
How can you love someone you never seen (If you cant love someone right in front of you)
Are you a saint? (saint)
Are you a aint? (aint)
Some of yall got me so confused
One raindrop
One degree under 33
One raindrop

Fasting, Praying and Drawing Close to God

Fasting in the Bible:

Recently as a church we were called to a short period of fasting and prayer. Our stated goal comes from our study in James 4 that is God’s promise that if we draw near to God He will draw near to us. That if we humble ourselves He will exalt us and give us greater opportunity to exalt Jesus’ Name! (James 4:8-10)  – To better educate myself I thought it would be good to write down and study the Biblical mandate for this practice. The coverage that the Bible does on fasting is bigger than most realize.

Though not as essential as regular Bible study and prayer on their own, it seems that fasting is a missing element in our evangelical culture that will bring much benefit, especially for us in this day where we are all hurried and harried and where we don’t stop and enjoy the “good portion” that Mary was commended for over and against being “anxious about many things.”

My prayer is that we will use every tool and method and examine every Biblical model in order to be approved workman, humble servants, more joyful overcomers, and more sanctified and loyal subjects to our great King Jesus. He loved us and gave Himself for us so it seems like this little sacrificial offering should be the minimum among the many ways we choose to love Him back! So…happy fasting as you draw near to Him and experience the incredible joy of Him drawing near to you!

Jesus Fasted: And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. – Matthew 4:2
This is where we start as New Testament disciples of Jesus, with Jesus! He is our model – we walk in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus was the Son of God – something we all know very well – but He was the Son of God – something we all rejoice in because He is because of this fact the High Priest who can be touched with our infirmity. He has been in every way tested like we are. But as the Son for Man the Spirit of God led him to a place of total dependence through fasting and prayer to lean even more on the Spirit of God who was His strength on earth. None of this could have been possible had He only been the Son of God but was the case as a man. As the Son of Man Jesus is our example. We should do all that He did and if He said by His life that fasting was right and good then we should affirm that truth just as much as any other truth in the Bible. We should be obedient and fight the flesh and be women and men of prayer and fasting.

The two go together. The same way that living in the wilderness (i.e. This world) go with being tempted by the devil.
Godly Women and Men in the O.T. Era Fasted:
2 Chronicles 20:1-4 – Jehoshaphat’s prayer and fasting before battle. (Prayer to bolster staffing faith, battle fear and to seek humbly God’s answer to fight or retreat – to seek His blessing in the battle and His victory and help over our foes. Joshoshaphat prayed in a worship motif – telling back to God His great glory and power reminding God of His reputation being at stake.)

2 Samuel 12:16, 23 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. Vs.23 – David fasted upon the death of his son. (Sorrow over the effects of sin and for the guilt of sin to reverse those effects and assuage the guilt)

2 Ch 20:3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.

Ezra 8:21Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.

Ne 9:1 Israel did. “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.”

Esther 4:3 And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
Es 9:31 that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them, and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting.
Ps 35:13 David did. “But I, when they were sick— I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.” (Prayer for David’s enemies including fasting for them) Ps 69:10 When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. (Fasting does not always have a meritorious effect on others)
Ps 109:24 My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat.
Correct Fasting Humbles Us – With Intended Benefit
Is 58:3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
Is 58:5-6 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Fasting Linked to the Word of God
Jeremiah 36:6 so you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the men of Judah who come out of their cities. Jer. 36:9 In the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord.
Fasting by the Prophets Modeled/Commanded
Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
Joel 1:14 Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
Joel 2:12“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning
Jonah 3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Zechariah 7:4-6 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me:
5 “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?
6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?
Luke 2:36-38 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Modeled by the Apostle’s Early Church
Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Jesus Instruction on Fasting:
Matt. 6:16-18 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Fasting is a very personal thing – requiring being alone in order to be secret and to be secret so you will be not robbed of its blessing/reward)

Matthew 9:15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Indicates that in proper fasting there is a mourning status about the act – in this case that Jesus is not physically with them – but when He is there no fasting possible because no mourning is possible – so it seems fasting is only for times on this earth before Jesus returns.Mark 2:20 seems to indicate that fasting will start on the very day Jesus ascends See also Luke 5:35)

The Church Fathers
In the Didache – a writing of the early church fathers after the Apostle’s – they taught that one should fast one or two days before getting baptized. They also taught we should fast normally on Wednesday and Friday of each week. Two days a week!?? Whoa…that is a lot of not eating!  Obviously, fasting was part of their life on a regular basis.

So, it seems there is a long Biblical history and that the early church fasted too through and beyond the New Testament period. These facts makes me question myself and say “in my hurried existence, in my busyness, in my struggle against sin, in my desire to draw close to God, wouldn’t I benefit greatly from fasting and praying on a regular basis?” I am tempted to think that I am slothful when it comes to fasting and that I have been missing out on something important. What should I do?

I believe the answer, in my life and yours as disciples is to follow the Lord’s own example and that of our brothers and sisters down through the ages and so fast and pray regularly…until the Bridegroom comes! It is His good pleasure to give us all good things. Could it be that this pleasure of drawing closer and Him drawing closer and me being more humble and God doing great things through us should be a reality?

Yes…and Amen!

Let us…Just Do It!

Thoughts and Prayers for God Rejoicing

To Hear God Rejoice Again

I remember August 26th 1979 so well. It was a Sunday afternoon and I went to a church we rented because we weren’t sure that ours would hold all the people who were invited. That’s the day I saw my girl in a white dress she bought at an outlet dress shop in San Francisco. She glowed in that dress. When I saw her coming down the aisle time stopped and my heart raced. I rejoiced over her. She became mine. I never thought, at that moment that I could ever do anything that would bother her let alone cause her grief. I would make her happy for the rest of our days for as long as both should live.

Then life happened. Babies came and bills came and illness came and allergies and flat tires and…and more life in spades. I found out I was a sinner and over the course of many decades there were times when I was too arrogant for bliss to be a possibility. I made decisions that grieved her. At times I am sure she wondered what happened to that blond hair blue eyed Knight in shining armor who was so sweet and tender.

God had to knock that knight off his horse several times and drive some sense into him. He had to humble him. It took a long time. (God’s still working on the “knight” of course) She waited patiently. She trusted and I am sure she prayed – God answered. He’s good at humbling people and answering prayers for it. Now she could rejoice over her knight once again. More importantly, the Knight could rejoice over his bride again. He could see how faithful and loving and beautiful she really was maybe because he had things put back into perspective for himself.

                         Oh Lord give us your perspective on things!!!!

We will at some time probably grieve the ones we love. We are all in the flesh still. To grieve the Lord though, what a loathsome possibility and reality that is. It almost seems like an impossibility in a way. Can God subject Himself to being grieved by an arrogant but lowly man made of dust? The Scriptures declare it so we better not make theological rules that dismiss this fact. By faith we must believe it to be true and deal with it. What a grievous thing thought to grieve God Himself.

                  Oh God as a people we have been grieving you for so long, for millennia I think.

From the fall to Noah and the deep down grieving over us that led to flood/water judgment that seems to pick up again because of the obstinate wilderness wandering and then the awful idol worship of Ahab and Jezebel….it is exasperating to rehearse how many times God’s people let Him down let alone the pagans of the world.

We, as a race have run a course of madness.

                Oh God have mercy. Humble a people now Lord and make them lowly so they may stop     the insanity of actually grieving you – for you are the God of all the earth who only does right by His creation.

The Hope of the Scriptures

Zephaniah 3:12 says “But I will leave in your midst, a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord.”

This happened because God had removed from their midst the proudly exultant ones. (see Zephaniah 3: 11) God intervened. The result was a humble people and that result was God rejoicing and the absence of further grief and shame in this “people humbled”. Lies and deceit and injustice faded too. The people prospered in this way and God was pleased to the point of loud singing.

                     Oh God! Have mercy again and humble us again!

                     Make us right and we will cause singing instead of weeping in heaven. WE long to hear you sing over us oh God – to sing and shout and exult over a remnant who love you, who appreciates mercy and have put lies and injustice behind. 

                      May we know your presence in our midst and then may we shout “a Mighty one who will save!” Then oh Lord, we will hear the singing. You will rejoice over us with gladness, you will quiet us by your love, and our humbled ears will be able to hear singing from heaven. No grieving, but exultant singing…LOUD!

 

                     Oh Lord that you would again receive pleasure from this humble people and we would no longer suffer the reproach of sin and rebellion. Then we can sing too…with the prophet of old a new song…the song of the redeemed… In humble response to hearing your… rejoice again!

The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

 

Escape From Reason’s Foundation – Psalm 11

The Psalmist asks himself, “if the bow is bent and the arrows are flying SHOULD my WILL SPRING INTO ACTION AND act and say IN EFFECT…”I will save myself!” But the truth is he knows that only his God is a real refuge.” In so many words Psalm 11 opens with a cry for sound reasoning. That we should know who we are and how dependent we are on our God being our only real safety, that He alone is a “very present help in trouble” as he says later in Psalm 46.

But there is something more that troubles the song writer than the threat to the buildings of the city – “if the foundations be destroyed what shall the righteous do?” It would be a wild thing for an attacking army to go after foundations…but that is the crux of his deepest anxiety…if the foundations are destroyed what shall good men do then?

Psalm 11:3 haunts us today. Today the foundations are assaulted in ways never thought possible. The spread rate of the crumbling is astronomical and its scope is unimaginable. Morally we are assaulted by the world, the flesh, and the devil simultaneously as Eve was to be sure, but in more sophisticated ways and in more generally accessible and contemptible ways too. It is everywhere like a wild virus strain that has overrun the lab – and this moral cesspool of a culture is more glamorized and monetized and has infiltrative power never before conceived, aided and abetted by the amazing technology of our times.

The Foundation of Reason
No foundation has taken a bigger hit though than the foundation of real thinking – of reason itself. Our discernment powers – are almost completely corrupted. The unsound minds of our times have a direct effect on our speech. James says that the tongue is evil and we agree. He points out that it is poisonous and can set on fire the very fabric of our existence – the ever revolving “wheel of life.” See James 3:6. There was a time when this warning was heeded, and caution and slowness of speech and steadfast God-dependence set it’s thinking on His wisdom. God’s thoughts were elevated above our own messed up ways of navigating through the experiences of this life so we held our tongue, listening and reasoning before speaking but that’s not today. Today we toggle our thumbs, turn on a mic, or use speech recognition software, blurt out our feelings and hit send long before we have reasoned out fully or prayed for wisdom and discretion. Let alone true discernment.

It seems that masses make big decisions the same ignorant and worldly way. Now we seem hellbent on electing a man to be President who capitalizes on using his vile tongue to denigrate his opponents and every time he says something worse his poll numbers jump higher. He recently was quoted as saying that he could start shooting people in public and he wouldn’t lose a single vote. I don’t believe he is necessarily wrong in his assessment.

We are in trouble because we have lost the foundation of reason in many avenues of life and we resort to passions that seem to lead quickly to belligerence. What do the righteous do? Do we jump on a political bandwagon and rely on men, because we too are upset and deeply angry at a government administration that is corrupt and being used as a tool of the enemy to take our liberty away? Do we stop thinking and go “gut?”

Not if we’re growing in godliness…
No, we humble ourselves and pray and ask God for mercy – we plead for it. We proclaim our dependence on Him.
Our very next prayer should be to confess our country’s dire moral state – for when the moral foundation goes, other edifices will follow, including the “reason” pillar. It is already sagging and has been for some time. I am concerned as a Christian that it has affected me. The fall of our civilized land has some kind of strange, almost aesthetic appeal to the flesh – I must guard against that “feeling” of fascination for just how it falls. I must not be simply a spectator as the Romans who attended the games were mesmerized by the fall of the heathen gladiators. I must shout against it. I must preach against it. I must prophesy against it. I must proclaim the gospel in Jesus’ love in the very face of ignorant enmity. Proverbs 24:17 says in the NLT “Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble.” Jesus said that we are to love our enemies. When He was reviled He did not revile in return, but He did preach the truth without compromise and then offered Himself as the only way for angry, ignorant man to be set free from his self-imposed slavery.

How to deal with non-reasoning people? Pray for them. Preach to them until their last breath or yours. Do good to them, especially when they persecute you and stay above reproach. Love them like Jesus did when He forgave the ignorance of the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. If they reject you they reject Him. If you do good you are heaping coals of judgment on them. You are not ‘enabling’ anyone by obeying the golden rule. God will judge.

God has spoken. The nation that forgets God is doomed. All who turn away from His laws are doomed – not just particular people but particular countries. Even our beloved America. WE are in trouble friends….but we must not let fear kill our reasoning either. We must discern the times.

The world will say that they have a way out…
Yet the scientist says hold on – one more breakthrough and we can solve it with new tech. We can cure the cancers, everyone of them. Utopia is around the corner. Never has there been a time when the labcoat and the pagan priest have so agreed. The non-thinking pagan of our day is the same as the New Age prophet that has been brewing for over 130 years. They say the same thing – those darn Christians are holding us back. Their dusty old book is phobic and dangerous and must be stamped out. They have not found a flaw in it. They don’t even bother to look that it for-tells them in detail.

Ignorance of Prophecy is Not Bliss
They don’t know about Daniel. They don’t know about Psalms 11 which is also prophetic in some respects. We already know about the man they will one day put in power. We don’t know his given name but we know he is called “the little horn” with a mouth that speaks great things. Daniel 7:8 tells us and it would tell them new-agers too if they could think long enough to read it. It is plain to us who have been born again not of the flesh, not of the will of man but born by the Spirit of God who have had a restored reasoning capability instilled in us. WE can read the prophecies and understand them. WE are not blinded by our own arrogance like the Pharisees who thought they had eyes did not see. They had brains but they were starting to lose their minds – I fear that today’s man has lost it almost completely and we know that in their stubbornness Satan has also veiled their eyes…The Man of Sin will attempt to tear down every foundational truth, even the very fabric of life – reason, goodness, purity, and truth itself. Foundational things will be what he goes after and he already is. The spirit of Anti-Christ is here.

So we Must Fight Now and Look Forward to Greater Glory
Daniel seven ends gloriously for the believer – it is a chapter of victory, of consummation of His kingdom after all. But there is a period when the old prophet is shaking in his boots. The Bible says he was terrified by the teeth of iron and claws of bronze. This man was a dragon. He devoured with that evil mouth and what was left he stamped with the awful feet. His goal, his aim was set on the saints. He prevails over them, for awhile, until God comes in their defense and the dragon is completely defeated. We use fight back with our mouth and with our hands. We must swing the hammer of God’s Word – the Sword of the Spirit. We must take cups of cold water to those who are in prison – we must clothe the naked with the robes of righteousness purchased for them by Jesus Christ’s own blood on the cross.

The human race has lost its senses and is about to begin worshiping this evil man of lawlessness…but God doesn’t care about that. He has had enough and because of His great love for us at just the right time He comes and rescues and it will happen in real time – this is not a theoretical war – it will happen in the physical realm. God comes through with fire, flaming fire – it has been His plan all along. So in the end He triumphs over the non-thinking rebellion. But just how is He rescuing now?

God’s not done yet…
Those who were men going along merrily to destruction, who at one time were the same way as everyone else were changed. Men who formerly threw away their ability to reason, who abandoned it like the birthright it is for a “mess of pottage” – these men had come to their senses, been woke up out of their sleep and realized their nasty state. All real Christians can say to one extent or another, “except for the grace of God there I would be too.”

All born again people must say, “such were some of me!”
I saw Jesus, and so I turned from the biting and lethal serpents and he cast out the serpent on the inside that was eating my brain. He delivered me. He cast out the demons that enslaved me and gave me soundness of mind.
Hallelujah for the Savior of our heart and our mind, so that we can love Him with our whole being, as commanded.

We must pray for God to embolden us to continue to take the gospel message to every creature. It is not enough for us to be growing in Christ and maturing in Him and think that somehow our job is done…with us! As Francis Schaeffer insists in his book “Escape from Reason, we must learn the language of our day in order to speak the gospel in a way that people will understand. We must know and respond in a way to pull people back towards reason. They must be reminded that in the real world non-reason never works. But there is also a more “excellent way” and that means real, Biblical love being proclaimed in the gospel. The love of a self-sacrificing Savior must be proclaimed into this generation and by the power of the Holy Spirit and His wisdom and in Christ we can do that effectively. We must not expect reasonableness in the philosophy of our current culture but we can share His love and let Him fill our mouths with His Words for the world we find ourselves in right now.

We can escape and help others, in Jesus, to escape from the ‘escape’ from reason.
He still delivers, Still opens the eyes of the blind and still sets the captive free!
It is still the favorable year of the Lord!
We must proclaim it! See Luke 4:18-21
Salvation is God’s business and it became a reality in Jesus and soon we shall see Him. We must make both of these realities our ‘business.’

Doesn’t this make you want to sing….Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus our blessed redeemer.

Psalms 11 ends pointing the struggling believer to God, seen in the soul assuring  verse “the Lord’s throne is in heaven.”
In case doubt and unbelief has crept into his thinking the singer is instructed, “the Lord is in His holy temple.” The doctor is in. He is in residence. In case you are wondering verse seven says “the Lord is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” That’s the blessed hope! The only other alternative is judgment…AND THATS COMING TOO FOR THE UNREASONED MAN.

No demented rate of decay can change that.
I will look up, for my redemption draws near!
Now I reason in part but then I will reason fully just as He has reasoned me!

Let’s roll!

Amen

Dynamic Bible Memory…Unleashing God’s Word Together!

We all want to memorize the Word of God. (if we are believers in Christ Jesus of course…) but how do we keep disciplined in this area. How do we “want to” more? I think feeding on His Word is the best way to build motivation for this. When I really get serious time with the Lord Jesus and pour myself into studying and thinking about and chewing over His Word I am more motivated to memorize it. The more I push back from study, the quicker the thermometer sags down into a heap at the bottom of lists of stuff to get done throughout the week. 

I also need others to quote it. This is where a dynamic takes place. When someone grabs a verse out of thin air and repeats it in context to a conversation, I am also engaged and motivated to have His Word on the tip of my tongue. Maybe that is a bit selfish, like “I want to be that spiritual too!” I don’t know, but God knows my heart. Maybe it could be another application of “spur one another on to love and good works!” (See I just pulled that one out of thin air…now…where is that found again? Oh yah – Hebrews 10:24). Maybe my seeing their love of God’s Word further motivates me? Proverbs says that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver – beautiful, like a treasured work of art. Seeing God’s Word in action reminds me that it is truly living and active and powerful.

We all are affected by the way each of us lives out our lives when we are part of the body of Christ. That is a fact – for good or for bad, for richer or poorer. That’s why I love our church so much. We are so far from perfect – but many just flat out love Jesus enough to take Him very seriously and to spend the time to know Him and to obey Him and I am so encouraged by the fruit and the wisdom God is bringing to pass in their lives that I could just leap for joy sometimes. I am affected by them…in a good way – I am richer for knowing them and hanging around them and ministering alongside them, and for how they draw me into a deeper understanding of just how great and lovely our God is. Like a multi-faceted diamond the Body of Christ is meant to be like that – reflecting the beauty and splendor that is our God.

I have listed some personal benefits below. But think about this – my memorizing of God’s Word and using the Sword in everyday life will create sparks that may light the fire in someone else’s devotional life – to be drawn closer to Christ and fall more in love with His Word! That’s dynamic – powerful I mean! Oh to know Him and the power of His resurrection cried the apostle!  I can know Him more powerfully as I soak in His Word, commit it to memory and then share it others in His kingdom.

Here are some of those other motivations that come to my mind in thinking about memorizing God’s Word – what others can you think of that will motivate us to know Him better in this way…

  1. Of course an obvious benefit of hiding God’s Word in our hearts is that it helps keep us from sinning – Psalm 119:11 
  2. The “blessed” promises of God’s Word are ours as allow His Word in – and they are all over the Bible – Psalm 1 and Psalm 119:1-3 to name a few
  3. Jesus’ prayer for us being one becomes a reality when we are a group letting His Word tear down arguments and any lofty thing that elevates itself against the knowledge of Him. John 17:17-21
  4. The very Words of God are being spread! Jesus did as much preaching and teaching as He did doing miracles because saying the Words of God was important. Paul preached the gospel because it is the Word of God. We are a letter of God’s written on our hearts! How important is it then to preach and teach to yourself the very Words of God…so that what comes out of our mouths will be what is on the inside, i.e. The Word!

This Week’s Challenge – Let’s do this!

As we consider how to spur one another on…let’s memorize together a verse that should be in our arsenal John 1:12&13

But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13

Supplement to Subtract

As Christian we all get concerned sometimes about removing worry, doubt or fear or some nagging sin from our daily life. We know, most of the time what the truth is about ourselves and whether or not we are sleeping well with a good conscience or whether we are being kept up with something or someone that is weighing us down. Sometimes we think, “this is has been an issue for so long…how can I get rid of it?” Here are things to think about from a different angle. These are two portions of God’s Word that have stuck in my mind recently and have been a real help to the extent that I obey them and learn to trust Him more in the process. I hope they help you too! I find that they carry truth that is vitally linked together as I want less of me and more of Him!

 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
2 Peter 1:5-7

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Faith is Key and…
Faith is the key.  We must start with trusting and believing Him. Then and only then does Peter say add to “it” – faith – and good will follow, but it does include the ‘ands’ that link these qualities together.  Later in the chapter (2 Peter 1:9) it says that if we don’t we will lose our eyesight and become nearsighted. It reminds me of when Jesus said that to him who ‘had’ more would be given and to him who had nothing even what he did have would be taken away in light of investing in the kingdom of God.(Matthew 25:29) It sounds as if God expects us to continue to grow, not shrink or coast or plateau but to increase. God is into to adding and not subtracting. But what if we need to truly ‘take away’ some things from our life….habits, sins, etc.? I think it has more to do with adding, and that in the adding the subtracting begins to happen as a result. The more we are attracted to Him, the less the draw will be towards sin and the wisdom of this world.

Faith Does Not Camp Alone But is Drawn to the Light
Like Jesus, faith does not abide alone – see John 12:24 – the seed goes into the ground to die for sure, and then to bring increase. Hebrews says we must believe  that He ‘is’ – i.e. have faith in Him for His existence – and also it adds that I must trust that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. The object in Hebrews 11:6 is twofold, if we are to be pleasing to God and if we are to be drawing near to Him we must believe things about Him. Being the King of the Universe – the Most Holy God of purist light and glory – we are beholden to please Him but also to be (seemingly invited) to desire to draw near to Him!  It is too good to be true, so yes, “I’ll take two measures of drawing near to Him please!!” How could I not want to get close to a God who is this amazing – that He wants me to? But what is the Bible trying to really say in Hebrews and how does that relate to 1 Peter 1:5-7?

God’s Good Desire – Our Closeness to Him
What I am learning from Hebrews 11 is that God actually desires a sinner like me to trust Him. But what specifically am I called to trust in? That He is a rewarder. That is inviting. That is a welcoming God – He wants to reward me. Is it for good works? No. It is a reward for simply believing in Him and wanting to be close – drawing near. This tells me something. He is good. He is really good. He is loving. 1 John 3:16 (the other John 3:16 in the Bible) says that love is defined – love is graded and at the top of the curve is Jesus dying for us so that we could be brought back into relationship with God. You want to know what love looks like – look at Jesus giving up His life to make it possible for me to get close to Him. My sin separated me – it killed our relationship and only His death made it possible – but I had to believe it – accept it – and believe that when I did I would receive an instant reward – Him.

Even after I am in Him for awhile I can receive more – by growing in my faith and knowledge of Him. My obedience and being further set apart for His glory means I am going to be rewarded time and time again with more of Him. I am continually drawing near to Him, in deeper humility, in more thanksgiving and in more obedience and He is no man’s debtor. He rewards me with new understandings of eternal truth that does not change. I am the one being changed.

God’s Goodness – Virtue
What does this have to do – for heaven’s sake – with 1 Peter’s ditty? It is the first thing in the list, virtue. We are told before anything else to “supplement” or add virtue to our faith. It means moral excellence or purity. In a word – goodness on a God-scale. Not just good feelings or karma or my idea of goodness – purity of motive and thought and a deep goodness that is linked, inseparably to God. He alone is virtue, and He is virtue incarnated. Jesus was good. Jesus is the perfect reflection of the nature of God (see Hebrews 1) and when I want to understand the goodness of God the best place to start is with Jesus. When Peter says to add virtue to my faith – it is really the natural thing to do. In faith I am already focused on Him and when you look at Him you want Him. You want more of “I am my beloved’s and He is mine” to be the natural exchange of two persons – one divine one human. That is relationship. My growing in faith means adding more of His traits so that more of His image is restored in me – contrary to and in total resistance to the fall – God is restoring what was lost in Eden!

This changes virtue from the legalistic mentality to the true beauty that it is. It is glorious because it is a reflection of  the very heart of our God – He is good – and He loves to share/reward those who turn to Him with His goodness/virtue simply because purity is a good thing. There is no fly in His ointment, no spot or wrinkle or anything that corrupts – it is pure, purer than the whitest snow…

Purity means Peril & Progress
That ‘virtue” of purity is so rare in our world – and everything the world is doing fights it -villain-like against this. The devil is corrupt and wants to share his corruptness and thereby ruin people so He hates what is not corrupt, namely purity or virtue. He is “good” at it. We must identify his schemes with the lens of Scripture and the guidance of the Spirit – not just so we can campaign for goodness but so that we can be good. When we do, the light will be so glorious that others will be drawn to it, first in curiosity, but then some will be prompted to believe. They, like us will be drawn into the dance of faith, learning and adding to and growing up in Christ. The side benefit being in the battle for mature faith will be the great subtraction. When you get a taste of this God of ours – you lose the propensity for worry about the affairs of this life. The more settled you become, the more determined, the less distracted. You become more like Jesus. You subtract immorality, because you want to get virtue – but not by ‘subtracting’ first but by supplementing faith with it and the other qualities mentioned in 1 Peter 1. You are really in pursuit of Christ in this ‘faith’ walk – and He then in turn gives you – He rewards you, with more of Himself and you want more and it is more, of Him – and He draws you closer, and then you want to be like Him. It is a good cycle because it is upwards and not the normal downward spiral that so many seem to fall into even within the church.

So the natural thing to do is to copy Him because you are falling in love with Him more each day. Probably the first thing you learned about God is that God is holy – pure – all good no evil, not one little bit. He is virtue. The definition of all that good is the three times Holy God. But do we realize how much more we are saying when we say that God is good that goes beyond just holiness? He is good in that He loves. The son wants to be like his dad because he has realized that his Dad is a hero – that he is a “good guy.”  When we are drawn into Him, into Jesus, we are drawn by chords of love. The love is love because it is good love. It wants what is supremely good for its object. Then we want to be and to act like Him, the originator and the continual giver of perfect, loving goodness.

1 Peter’s message begins by stating that “by faith” is the only way to go – but we not to stop at faith alone because it is not alone by definition but meant to go on and on in faith, supplementing our faith first with virtue and then with every single facet of who God is. In this we subtract sin and bring every thought into captivity to Christ. Though Satan will, no doubt try to come after and steal it, and though we may stumble and fall sometimes in our faith pursuit of it – we must add virtue to our faith. We must persevere by His grace and continue to fight the good fight…of faith!

Love
The end of the list is so packed with poignancy. 1 Peter 1:7 says the end is love. The book end on the left is moral excellence and on the right end – love…with equal measures of knowledge, self-control, stead-fastness, godliness and affection filling out the middle of this ‘cake.’ I believe that the best definition of God’s nature, fully revealed in Jesus Christ is love. Love is the most delicious part of the cake, it is the essential icing and not just empty calories. 1 John 4:8 says this implicitly – God is love. 1 John 4:19 says we love because He first loved us.

So what we have is…you start with faith, you grow in faith by adding to, or supplementing your faith with qualities starting with virtue. When He is done growing you up in Himself you become like Him – and you end with love, the genuine love that is only from Him is now in you. So really, you are richer and not poorer for all the giving that you must do. The only thing that is subtracted is that which is not pure, or non-Godly. When He is done with us we will resemble His Son – the true epitome of and expression of pure, divine love.

Hallelujah for the Cross and all that flows from it down to us, the place where love was poured out and came down to us!

It is what drew out our trust and hope – and this kind of hope does not dissapoint.
Indeed, we love because He first loved us!

Amen

thanksgiving stock…

Holidays make me miss my Dad who died a young eighty five… I also miss the family who live a little too far from us to be with and the family who are separated from us for other reasons too at this time in their lives. It is hard to be away from them all at a time when the holiday just reeks ‘brothers and cousins and Mom and Dad’ but I am glad for those I can be with just the same – though a tear may fall into the stuffing along with the chicken ‘stock’ and dried bread. Somethings can’t be helped – I guess I can add a little less salt if it does.  (Now who wants to eat at my house!!? lol)

Maybe there is more than a tinge of sadness that is a bother in the midst of your recipe planning, food buying, cooking and general prep for the day of Thanksgiving coming up soon. (wow… it is just two days away now – I sure hope the turkey will be thawed out in time! – P.S.  see how distracted I get? It is tough getting old – have you heard the one about…whoops…) We get so busy during this time of year that we can be gloomy or even truly sad and not really take the time to figure out why. We might say to ourselves,  “What is really wrong… and should I – do I have time to…to squeeze out even a few minutes to take stock and take it to the Lord and examine His Word and figure out what the problem is?”

If that is you then you are not alone. The holidays are times of sadness for many. Some may choose to get to the bottom of it but most won’t, choosing to instead sweep it up with another scoop of seven layer salad or a cup of “strong” egg-nog. If you are a Christian it would be better to face the music and simply take stock of where you are and where you have been and once again, “enter in to the joy of your Lord.” We know that “in His presence is fullness of joy – at His right hand are pleasures for ever more! But is that our actual experience during the week? I am sure for some it is. If your heart is rejoicing – then get loud and praise and worship and thank the Lord for His bountiful gifts!

But what if you are stuck? What if you are down and not able to quickly stoke up the fires and get them bright and burning right away? Take the simple route…if you want a better attitude of gratitude…

Take stock I say – take inventory – see what’s missing in the store house. Has some gnarly character come crawling and creeping into your world and you somehow missed it? Thieves are usually burglars. They sneak in with the expertise of a spider or a mouse and rummage all over the house undetected but nonetheless their work is to our peril – they do real damage. They wait for you to fall asleep, they work at night and work hard at not being noticed. But they do such damage when we are unaware…when we haven’t been taking stock. The Bible says to examine ourselves to see if we are “in the faith.” Not only should we make sure we are really saved but that also we are “being saved” or a better word is…being sanctified. We easily drift, and wander, and coast – the Word says be diligent, watchful, sober-minded. We must continue to reassess…examine, walk circumspectly!

In His commentary on Revelation, Matthew Henry puts it this way: “they must compare their present with their former state, and consider how much better it was with them then than now, how much peace, strength, purity, and pleasure they have lost, by leaving their first love,—how much more comfortably they could lie down and sleep at night,—how much more cheerfully they could awake in the morning,—how much better they could bear afflictions, and how much more becomingly they could enjoy the favours of Providence,—how much easier the thoughts of death were to them, and how much stronger their desires and hopes of heaven.” Boiling that all down, take stock!

The problem in Revelation 2 that Matthew H. was writing about all the way back in 1701 is the same problem we face now…the tendency of all of us is to decline in our love of Christ and not to increase in it. It’s like a slow leak really. Not a lot of noise, in fact it happens with us being quite unaware. It is not as though we have abandoned Jesus or His Word – we just get flat on one side of the tire. We give Him – second rate love…and old the first place for old number one! We have a little faith when we know He desires the big’n – but it works itself into our actual lives –  we don’t have any fervor in our praying, or we don’t get mad at sin – we are no more grieved at abominations than we are of a hiccup. We don’t hate what God hates and love what He loves. We get politically correct – spiritually speaking. WE ACT TOO RESPECTABLE when we praise the Lord of glory!!  We all tend towards getting more religious and less raptured…that is unacceptable when we used to get all excited and freaky by just one glimpse from our Savior.

Oh that we would take simple stock of the situation and see the truth of Jesus’ Words in Revelation 2:7  – the simple solution – repent and do the first works! Be grieved over your own declension. Be mad at your stupidity – your lack of zeal – then turn from it and turn to the gracious and loving embrace of the one who delights in you…His gaze is sufficient for ridding the stain or your shame – one coal from His fire will cleanse you and warm your heart simultaneously.

Then pick yourself up by His grace and love others. Show the reality of the first love man or woman that you really are – be the city set on a hit in miniature and it will rub off on other like minded men and women and the city will indeed be shining even brighter than it was a few minutes before. You will then praise like you did when you first were born again and sing with the rest of the throng of blood bought lovers of JESUS:

Hallelujah Thine the Glory
Hallelujah Amen
Hallelujah Thine the Glory
Revive us again!

Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.*

Thank you Lord for loving us so much – and forgive our less than mutual love in return. Thank you for your Word that reminds us, and Shepherds us – and warms us and fills us! Thank you for reminding us to take stock – and then to be thankful in all things!!!

Hallelujah – what a Savior!

*(I can still hear my Dad singing this at the top of his lungs during “the Breaking of Bread” in our Plymouth Brethren tradition – sweet memories…so thankful for those days!)

Thankfulness in Ecclesiastes

framingI just heard a great word on thankfulness from Dr. Steven Runge today. It went something like this: “as a carpenter framing houses, I knew that God maybe had something more for me – but I also knew that I should be thankful and enjoy what I was working on and where God had me at the time. So I started looking for 2×4’s that were the right size so I could thank God for that. It is like when you are doing laundry and the socks all match up and you are just so excited about that and you thank God for that little joy in the otherwise mundane work you just have to do.”

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 says There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

What do you think about this subject?
Is God’s Word true on this?
What ways do you look at – and for, in your everyday life in “your toil?”

One of the dying arts of living is to actually enjoy seeing a job done, and done well. Many times I get in a hurry and forget the details that will make the job shine better and in turn reflect better on my Lord who does “all things well.” Sometimes I try to be a loner and yet when I take the time to involve others in the work of the kingdom and see their expertise and their enjoyment the job is more Joy than just job.

Looking for input on this subject. …like…What other Scriptures come to mind or Bible characters that can better inform us and fill us with more joy as we journey to our real and forever home?

Btw…I don’t think we will sit around in heaven. I’m sure there will be much for us to learn and do.
Jesus as a boy even was “busy about His Father’s business” like He was already plenty use to working and enjoying the pleasure of pleasing Him. And, besides that his earthly Dad was a carpenter…plenty to think about here…I think!

Judgment Day

In light of the Supreme Court ruling this morning basically legalizing homosexual marriage,  you may be wondering if the title of this blog is appropriate. Many are celebrating the decision and many are not. I choose to celebrate people none the less. They are made in God’s image and they are a treasure, though marred by the fall of man recorded in the Bible. All of us are flawed, myself at the top of the” broken and earthen jar” list. People sometimes drive me crazy and disappoint me, but I sometimes let myself and others down too, so I choose to love individuals unconditionally and will fight to preach the truth that all men are created equal because God says that they are. In the eyes of the law they are equal – but of course we are not all the same and not all “things” are the same or equal either.

But why choose a provocative title? Am I trying to satisfy the wrath of those who believe in the Bible, like I do? No, though I understand it. I chose it because my job every day is to look into the Scriptures and draw out treasures both old and new and then share those treasures. The Bible has witnessed many a day like today. Many so called saviors have arisen who claimed that they loved their country, and that their dictatorial stance was only temporary and would lead to more freedom eventually.

Whenever they drastically changed a law they would claim that they were actually purifying the nation. When all of the less desirables were dealt with, the country they were dismantling would be whole again. History has a way of making deja vu seem boring – after all some memories would be better off being kept in the past where they belong. Today we are told that we are evolving for the common good. We are told it is a good thing to sue someone who won’t bake you a cake when you demand it just because you are willing to pay for it. We are told that some need to sacrifice their freedoms for the “greater” good.

The Same Old Sin-Thing is Boring
Today is a repeat. It is not boring unless you consider the fact that we have seen a series of laws be thrown out even though they were passed legally by a majority vote. And, we have seen more strident judges making up new laws, although their job is to rule on the constitutionality of laws and not to make incursions into the legislative branches business. But that being said, the legislatures would probably go the same way anyway, eventually, “for the good of the country,  you know!”

But all this is blather. Meaningless chit chat. It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans really, now that it is. We have crossed a big line today. What I also mean is that talk is cheap when it comes from those who will soon turn to dust, but who will face judgment before they do enter their final state.  The will meet Him – the Judge – God.

Warnings Are Mercy in Disguise
We have been as a nation meeting Him all along.  He is no absentee landlord. He has sent messengers from headquarters to warn us and counsel us. “Come, let us reason together, says the Lord.” That guy ,Isaiah, came a long time ago and told us what God wanted. I am pretty sure his own people’s nasty king Manasseh took him out. He probably told people it was for the good of the nation, that Isaiah was just too exclusive and harsh and narrow minded. Jesus told about the prophets of Israel as though they really were coming from headquarters and that they were beaten and such as reps of the real and merciful Landlord. Then the Chief runs out of messengers and sends His own Son to warn people, and the people think that if they kill the Son they can keep the remote branch office for themselves. So they actually kill him. Mercy in disguise was not recognized properly. It was not appreciated properly.  But it was also ironic that supposedly “religious” people were the ones who loaded the gun, and cocked it, and handed it to the Romans to pull the trigger that killed Jesus. They were religious in name only. Real religious people are by nature merciful and compassionate. See the book of James for that score.

Jesus was talking about Himself in the story about the killing of the son and his messengers. (Mark 12) It was a prophecy. Jesus, mercifully told the people of His day to turn around and be reconciled to God – He warned that if they didn’t change their mind they would perish – judgment would happen. Turn or burn. They thought if we kill Him, that judgement will be done away with and we will be free from this ‘too tight for us to wear’ morality straight jacket kingdom. It didn’t work. He rose from the dead. They all died in their sins and sealed their fate. They enjoyed their so called freedom of sin for a season but now they are wishing for drops of water to cool their tongues from the flames of judgment.

Jesus ascended gloriously to the right hand of His Father and left a small group to keep up the work, and they were given a portion of His own Spirit for power and understanding – so they could continue to fight the fight for real freedom, for real peace, for real equality, but also for eternity. To keep on warning is the job of every Christian. Our very witness is proof that the true owner of this planet is coming again to reclaim it for Himself and to deal with those who would defile it.

A Terribly Tragic Day
This day is tragic because it is a huge step towards attempting to legalize the continued degradation of the human condition. It is a day of death, not of life. It is temporal, but it is still tragic. Most of all it is that way because it means judgment has fallen even more poignantly than ever before this day. We have come to a point that is outlined definitely in the very scary, but very good chapter of the letter to the Romans that one of God’s messengers wrote 2000 years ago. He wrote it to a church in the capital.  Rome was massively moving towards a free for all society. They were falling headfirst into a moral morass. Paul wanted to warn the whole world that true righteousness was not found in wrecking the law that resides on the pages of Holy Writ by passing laws written on cheap paper.  He appealed to whatever was left in the human conscience and wrote a treaty on law, culture, the human condition, and most importantly on the answer, the true answer, for real freedom and hope. In order to get there he had to warn first about the problem. So…

HE TOLD THEM IT WAS JUDGMENT DAY
I will quote him here: “for this reason God gave them up” it says in Romans 1:26. First, let me say this – it actually reads “the God gave them up.” There is only one lawgiver and His name is Jehovah. That was the name God was known by only  to men who were in relationship to Him. He has other names, one is Judge. He is Judge because He always does the right thing. He is Judge because He is the Creator. He made us and owns us and has always done right by us. He also will eventually give us what we want. If we want to be “free” of Him, He somehow allows that. By definition that is not what we would think a “righteous” judge would do. WE would think He would stop it immediately. But a judge is not a cop. A judge is to rule on law. Eventually all will be brought to justice when the Son’s angels will police everyone up – and deliver all to be judged- by what we have done in the body for good or for evil.

Judgment Equals “Gave Them Up”
When it says in Romans that the Judge, God, “gave them up,” what Paul is saying is that the guilty guy is not being sent to a reformatory, but is being consigned and locked into the exact state that they were attempting to force everyone else to become – rebels against a holy Judge. God’s judgment was “so be it then!” First to unbridled passions in Romans 1:26. People kept and keep going on in sin.  Sin is never satisfied; when it is out of the barn it is mowing down everything in sight. Being “given up to” passions without controls means God consigned someone He loves, that He has an interest in, to get what they want.  The Judge, God then gives them over to a “debased mind” in verse 28. This is so critical. When the mind is given over to be in a debased state, it cannot guard the heart and the rest of the person is absolutely compromised. In verse 22 we find out that a futile thinker leads certainly to having a darkened heart. Without a heart there is no mercy, no compassion – brutality will follow. There is no doubt where the culture is headed – certain ruinous barbarism.  Rome was the same way – moral debasement then great cruelty.

The 1900’s Were No Accident
I skipped over one – one state that we passed many moons ago in our nation. It is the state of impurity in Romans 1:24. We lost our purity it seems in the last century. It came like a flood in the music of the 1950’s and went crazy in the 1960’s. It started much earlier in the church – somewhere in the 1940’s when the church went for impure doctrine – abandoning the pure gospel for another that was no gospel. By the time the 50’s hit there was no guard for the heart of the country. The American church was already sick in the head – impure doctrine leads to a state of impurity and degradation. Satan’s scheme worked maybe because he knows God’s words better than we do – he used it against us. He went after the church and then the culture was easy pickings.

Legalized abortion followed in the 70’s and now we are in 2015 and we have legalized homosexual marriage by court mandated/sanctioned lawmaking. It had to happen. I want to throw up. I am ashamed to be an American now. It is my shame too – I am a sinner, a lawbreaker, a moral failure, a sinner of the first degree. I have known Jesus since I was eight years old and still I have been guilty of breaking His laws. I, in some ways, am worse than those who know not the law and break it in some level of ignorance. But I am also redeemed from the curse of my law breaking. I have found freedom – and I don’t mean perfection yet. But I will one day be perfected in My King who already is  perfect.

Chapter two of Romans consigns the so-called moral man to being branded a sinner/lawbreaker, as well as the sexually immoral and more outward sinner of chapter one. The warning of Romans two is that there will be tribulations and distress for every man being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek, for God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:9-11)

The Really Big Question
So where do we go from here? It is time to preach the gospel like there is no tomorrow because there may not be too many of them left. Romans 3 preaches that “all are under sin – none is righteous, no, not one.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one….the way of peace they have not known, there is no fear of God before their eyes.”

The really big question is what to do now, sinner! If the whole world, including me, is accountable, what do we do? How do we get back? The answer is tragic today – as a nation we do not. We have crossed a line. Our hope is for one person at a time, here and there to repent. Peter preached that sermon on Pentecost – some fifty days after Jesus was killed – repent! Change your mind is the meaning of that word in the Greek where it was penned first. Only when the gospel is preached is their enough light available to enlighten a mind that is dark and a heart that is black with the night of death. We need to be made right – righteous as the Bible says it.

Answer
Paul said it under inspiration of God Himself this way in Romans 3:21-26

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Be Emboldened Dear Christian
This is not a day to give up on people, but to give up on politics. I don’t mean that we should stop talking about changing the laws, or throwing out the bums from congress, or arresting the criminals (even if they work of the government) – for a fitting and reasoned cultural response as American citizens read Randy Thomasson’s article here.

What I am saying is that a “cultural” response is not the real focus of evangelical Christians and can not be – the Ameri-Titanicus is going down – we must rescue “possible” survivors. We must preach the gospel to people who can be saved but maybe eternally lost. The culture is lost but we may, and we will, be able to pick up willing people out of the ocean and put them on the Ark with us by proclaiming the gospel that is powerful to save!

We must also renounce sin – anything that is distracting us and snaring us must go. We must have a humble and broken spirit about the great loss that today’s decision portends. We must weep and pray and fast and weep some more. Then we must get up and let God’s Word be a fire in us – we must steel our souls by the Word and be washed by the water of the Word, and get ready to fight for souls. WE must pray for courage! We are going to need it.

We must come together in our local churches and band together with those who are like minded. We are going to need to be one as Jesus commanded us to be – in love. We are going to need to abide in His love by keeping His commandment to love one another in reality by His grace.

It is time to move on with the work that we have been fitted to do by the generous gift of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit into our hearts that happened when we were saved. It is time to get back to Bible reading, and Biblical meditation, and Biblical living and Biblical preaching. It is time to be the church of Acts.

It is time to act.

God be with us.