Tuesday, February 28, 2012

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT 

Jesus moved away from the crowds and went up on the mountain to teach those students who came to him.  He taught them,
·        “The poor, in spirit, are in luck: the kingdom of the skies is theirs.  He means that though people are poor in terms on money, in spirit they are wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, for it’s richness in spirit that counts in heaven. 
·        The mourners are in luck: they will be consoled.   When in the presence of God, the people will see that spirit goes on and there is no need for mourning.
·        The gentle are in luck:  they will inherit the earth.  It is through love that things change.  It’s only through love that the way of a person’s heart will change and eventually that will be the way of the earth.
·        Those hungering and thirsting for justice are in luck: they will get their fill.  There is always justice in the universe.  The universe always strives towards balance.  Balance is another word for Karma.  The universe takes care of itself, so we don’t have it.
·        The merciful are in luck: they will be treated mercifully.  Again, another way of saying, ‘what goes around, comes around.’ 
·        The clean-hearted are in luck: they will see God.  Those who are clean-hearted and see the goodness in others, are seeing God all the time.  Their reward for being clean-hearted is to be able to see the good in the rest of the world.  Just as the opposite is true: If you lie or are deceitful, your penance is that you will not be able to trust others and will only see the bad in the world.
·        The peacemakers are in luck:  they will be called God’s sons and daughters.  Those who bring peace, are doing God’s work.  Just as Jesus came to do God’s work, so do all of us who bring peace to the world, even in a small way.  Ask yourself the times you have take the opportunity to bring peace, to resolve conflict or to give a heartfelt compliment so someone who deserves it?
·        Those persecuted for the sake of justice are in luck:  the kingdom of the skies is theirs.  Jesus was a tremendous storyteller and had the ability to say the same thing in a variety of ways to help people hear it.  This is another example of the way of karma works.  When you speak out for something that you believe in, something that’s right, you are working in harmony with God.
·        You are in luck:  when they blame you and persecute you and tell lies of you, because of me, be happy and delighted, because you will be well paid in the skies.  After all, they persecuted the prophets before us the same way.  Don’t be discouraged if your message isn’t welcomed.  It’s difficult for people to hear the truth sometimes.  If you were not saying or doing something of importance (something loving and peaceful in accordance to God’s wishes) that was about the truth, people would pay no mind.
·        “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt goes tasteless, what do you salt it with?  It’s good for nothing any more, but to be thrown out and stepped on by everybody.  You’ve probably seen it happen to people; one minute they are full of vim and vigor, spouting ideas with enthusiasm and working for that which is right, then the next minute, they have allowed life to beat them down. People lose respect for them and they become objects of pity.
·        You are the light of the world.  A city can’t be hidden lying on a mountaintop.  Nor do people light a candle and cover it with a big basket; they put it up on a tall candlestick where it can shine for everyone in the house.  That’s how your light must shine in front of the world, so that people can see your good deeds and give credit to the Father in the skies.  You are an amazing being.  Don’t hide your goodness and don’t allow yourself to be smothered.  You have seen examples of both.  Sometimes you meet someone who just seems to radiate and shine.  They are ‘full of life’ and excited about being here and being who they are.  There are others whose light seems to have been extinguished.  You can see it in their eyes.  This is not uncommon in very poor areas and in the eyes of people from poverty in other countries or people who are in slavery.
·        “Don’t think I came to dissolve the law or the prophets:  I didn’t come to dissolve them, I came to fulfill them.  I assure you, till the sky and the earth go away, not one letter or punctuation mark of the law will ever go away until everything has come to pass.  So anyone who dissolves even one of the smallest commands and teaches others the same way, will be known as the lowest in the kingdom of the skies; whereas anyone who keeps the commands and teaches them too, will be known as someone great in the kingdom of the skies.  There was fear, when Jesus came, that he came to make people want to revolt and riot for change.  He was letting them know that there will always be laws until the end of time and that he was not telling people to go against them or to riot, but rather merely to listen to what he had to say and follow those laws as well.  They were not mutually-exclusively.  So he was telling them not to teach rebellion, but rather to teach his words about love.
·        “I’m telling you, if you don’t brim over with justice more than the canon-lawyers and the Pharisees, you will not get into the kingdom of the skies.  He was teaching to ‘do that which is right’, in effect.  By following the words of Jesus, you will be behaving justly.  If not, then you would be no better than those who oppress you.
·        “You’ve heard how your ancestors were told: ‘You are not to murder.  Whoever murders is liable to be brought to justice.’  But I say everyone who gets angry at his brother will be subject to justice, and if he calls his brother ‘swine,’ it will go before the high court, and if he calls him idiot,’ he’s liable to be thrown into the fire of Gehenna.  Jesus is saying that there’s no excuse for any sort of bad behavior, whether it’s murder or just name-calling.  It all comes back around.  The law of karma is the same as the justice of which Jesus spoke.
·        “So if you’re just about to put your offering upon the temple altar and then you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift on the floor and get out of there:  first make up with your brother, and then go make your offering.  There is no shortcut to ending your karma.  If you have issues with your brother (or anyone), better to first resolve those issues with that person while you have a chance before doing anything else. 
·         Get friendly with your adversary fast, while you’re still on the road with him, so your adversary doesn’t hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the jailer, and you get thrown in jail; I assure you, you won’t get out of there till you’ve paid off every last penny.  I believe Jesus was talking about making things right with people.  There is no easy way around it.  Every debt will be paid before you are finished with this world.  You can either deal directly with the person you have issues with or you can try to avoid it and instead be surprised when your debt comes due.
·        “You’ve heard how it was said, ‘You are not to commit adultery.’ But I say any man who looks at a woman and really wants her has already slept with her in his heart.  It seems to me that we would have to look beyond the obvious to get to the true meaning of this phrase because, with most men, they imagine sleeping with almost all of the women they ever see.  (This is said with amusement, so please don’t be offended.)  I believe Jesus is talking about the thin line between imagining something in minute detail, (how you create as a spirit) and something coming into being.
·        If it’s your right eye that gets in your way, pull it out and throw it off: you’re better off losing one of your members than having your whole body thrown into the Gehenna fire.  And if it’s your right hand that gets in your way, cut it off and throw it aside:  you’re better off losing one of your members than having your whole body thrown into the Gehenna fire.  We each set up stumbling blocks for ourselves.  We are usually our own biggest adversaries and I believe that Jesus is talking about where we should get rid of one small block within ourselves before we lose ourselves completely. 
·        “It was said, ‘Whoever separates from his wife must present her with a divorce decree.’ But I say anyone who divorces his wife for any reason but whoring is setting her up for adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman is living in adultery.  I believe that Jesus was talking about spiritual agreements and the importance of honoring them. When you make a spiritual agreement, such as marriage (the biggest and most common), the agreement is made for the lifetime.  ‘Whoring’ (on either side) is breaking that agreement.  On a legal level, you may be ending that agreement, but on a spiritual level, the agreement continues.
·        “You’ve also heard how your ancestors were told, ‘You are not to break oaths, you give your oaths to the Lord.’  But I say don’t swear at all:  don’t swear by heaven, it’s the throne of God.  Don’t swear by the earth, it the footrest under His feet.  Don’t swear by Jerusalem, it’s the city of the great king.  Don’t swear by your own head, you can’t make a single hair white or black.  Let your way of talking be ‘yes’ and ‘no’; anything more than that comes from the Evil One.  If you are a person of your word, then there is no need to swear to anyone or anything.  Let your word be your bond, as the saying goes.  Also, something is either true or it’s not and swearing to anyone or anything doesn’t change that.  It only creates suspicion.  If you feel you must swear by something, then it makes one wonder why you feel you need to reinforce your word.  Isn’t your word enough?
·        “You’ve heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say don’t stand up to the villain:  if somebody raps you on the right side of your jaw, give him the other side, and if somebody sues you for your shirt, give him your coat too.  And if somebody drags you a mile out of your way, go two miles with him.  Give to those who ask you, and don’t turn the person away who wants to borrow from you.  You are not the keeper of karma.  It is not your decision how and when anyone learns their lessons.  A rigid branch will crack when the wind blows hard, so be strong enough to bend.  There is a saying, ‘What you resist, persists.’    It’s hard to dislike someone who is kind to you or who speaks well of you and it’s unwise to miss an opportunity to do a good deed.  Karma is neutral; it’s not just bad deeds that get punished; it’s also good deeds, which are rewarded.
·        “You’ve heard it said, ‘You are to love those close to you and hate your enemies.’   But I say love your enemies and pray for your persecutors if you want to be children of your Father in the skies, because He shines his sun on villains and saints and rains on the innocent and the guilty.  It’s easy to love someone who is nice to you.  It’s more difficult, and vastly more rewarding, to let go the wrongs done to you and ask God to shine his loving grace on those who have done the wrongdoing.  Those who are, already, loving, caring people, know where to find God.  Those who are mean and hurtful, have forgotten what God’s love feels like and are sitting in the dark.  They are the ones who need your prayers.
·        “If you love those who love you, what pay do you get?  Don’t the tax-collectors do that much?  And if you only say hello to your brothers, what are you doing special?  Don’t pagans do that much?  So be perfect the way your heavenly Father is perfect.  How loving is it to only love those who love you?  Anyone can love an adorable puppy or a cooing baby.  How much more difficult it is to love your angry boss or the teacher who only calls on you when you don’t know the answer.  God loves everyone in equal amounts (which means infinitely.)
·        “Be careful not to put your virtue in front of people to be noted by them.  If you do, you will get no pay from your Father in the skies.  So when you contribute to charity, don’t have a trumpet-player go before you, like the fakes do in temples and down alleyways, so people will glorify them; believe me, they have already been paid their wages.  But when YOU give to charity, your left hand shouldn’t know what your right hand is doing, so that your charity is on the sly; And your Father, watching on the sly, will pay you back.  This is about motivation.  Giving to charity, so you can have your name on a plaque on their wall is not charity.  It’s a fee for services rendered.  You are paying them to stroke your ego and feed your pride.  If you give, it should be without expectation.  Your payment is the joy you feel inside at the giving.  If you did it for any other reason, it’s not charity.
·        “And when you pray, don’t be like the fakes who love to pray standing in the temples and on the street corners so as to show off for everybody.  Believe me, they have already been paid their wages.  When YOU pray, duck into the store-room and lock the door and pray to your Father on the sly. And your Father, watching on the sly, will pay you back.  Your communication with God is between you and God.  Those who pray loudly and publicly are not praying; they are putting on a show.  Praying is about talking to God with an open heart. 
·        “When you pray, don’t babble on like pagans who think they can make themselves heard with a great glut of words.  Don’t act like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
·        “So pray like this:
                    Our Father in the skies,
                    Let Your name be sanctified.
                    Let Your kingdom come,
                    May Your will be seen
                    On the earth, just as in the sky.
                    Give us day by day the next day’s bread,
                    And forgive our debts
                    The same as we forgave the debts that others owed us.
                    And do not put us to the test,
                    But snatch us from the Evil One’s clutches, let it be so. 
          The Lord’s Prayer was intended to set a mood.  While not strictly necessary, it’s a way of tuning into to God.  It’s kind of like turning on your IM on your computer.  You can send your communications other ways, but this is a direct way to get your message across.
·        “If you forgive people for stepping out of line, your heavenly Father will forgive you too.  But if you don’t forgive other people, your Father also won’t forgive you for stepping out of line.  How can you possibly forgive yourself for anything if you don’t extend the offer to other people?  “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Jesus repeats the same concepts in a variety of ways.  In many ways, he talks about karma.  This is another example.  If you don’t forgive, there will be no forgiveness to come back to you.
·        “When you fast, don’t be like the grim-looking fakes who disguise their faces so they’ll look to people like they’re fasting.  When YOU fast, put on a fragrance and wash your face, so you DON'T look to people like you’re fasting, except to your Father on the sly.  And your Father, watching on the sly, will pay you back.  Again, the question becomes whether you are doing things for yourself or for the recognition of others?  When you fast for others, you only make yourself hungry for nothing.  If you fast privately, to cleanse yourself of toxins and to create a different sort of meditation space for yourself, then it’s likely to work because it’s for yourself.  It’s like the people who are very pious and make a big deal out of going to church.  Who are they going for?  My mom had a roommate in college who was quietly religious.  It was several months before my mom realized that the woman even went to church.  This is because she went to 5:30am mass, even in a snowstorm.
·        “Don’t save up your treasures on the earth, where moths and rust eat away at them and thieves tunnel in and steal them.  Save up your treasures in the sky, where no moth and no rust eats away and thieves don’t tunnel in and steal.  Because where your treasure is, your heart will be too.  This is a more eloquent way of saying, “You can’t take it with you.”  You’ll never hear a man say on his deathbed that he wished he’d worked more.  Good deeds, good friends and great relationships are what matter.  These are what will teach you your valuable spiritual lessons.  It’s those lessons that travel with you when you leave this world.
·        “The lamp of the body is the eye.  So if your eye is in one piece, your whole body is lighted; whereas if your eye is bad, your whole body is in darkness.  So if the light inside you is dark…what a lot of darkness!  “The eye is the window to the soul.”  If you look closely, you can usually tell when someone’s light is bright or if it has gone out.  If you have gone dark inside, you are consumed with loneliness.
·        “No one can serve two masters: either he’ll hate one and love the other, or he’ll put up with the one and despise the other.  You can’t serve God and the Almighty dollar.  “That’s why I tell you, don’t trouble your heart about what you will eat and drink or clothe your body with.  Isn’t the soul more important than food, and the body more important than clothing?  Look at the birds in the sky:  they don’t plant, don’t harvest, and don’t fill silos, and your heavenly Father still feeds them.  Don’t you make more difference to Him than they do?  Can any of you, by being vastly concerned, add a foot to your height?  And why do you worry about clothing?  Study how the lilies of the filed grow:  they don’t work, and they don’t spin cloth.  But I am telling you that not even Solomon in all his glory was every dressed like one of them.  If that’s how God clothes the wild grass of the field, there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you, unbelievers?  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have money.  You don’t need to give up everything to love God.  What this means is that if your whole focus is on material things, then you don’t have any attention left for matters of the spirit (of God.).  The Universe is created in abundance.  Everything we need is here. 
·        “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we drink?  What will be wear?’  The pagans ask for all these things, but your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  Ask first for the kingdom of God and His justice, and these other things will be delivered to you.  So don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow can worry about itself.  Each day’s evil is enough for the day.  This particular phrase has been misused frequently over the years.  People use this passage as an excuse to do nothing. They spend all their money in a variety of ways, then says that tomorrow can take care of itself.  Or they lay around and do nothing and claim the same thing.  What these people are ignoring is that they haven’t asked for the kingdom of God and His justice.  In other words, they haven’t taken care of today, yet!  Be in present time.  Take care of what is in front of you and the future automatically takes care of itself.
·        “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged; you will be sentenced to the same sentence that you sentence others, and by whatever standard you measure you will be measured.  Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?  And how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me get that splinter out of your eye,’ with that log there in your own eye?  You fake, first get the log out of your own eye, and then you can see about getting the splinter out of your brother’s eye!  This passage is a personal favorite of mine.  How often do you see people giving advice about something they themselves have issues with?  Or you hear selfish people judge others for being selfish?  People can readily see even the smallest issues that other people struggle with, yet fail to see the huge issues they have themselves.
·         “Don’t give the holy of the holies to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls at the feet of pigs, or else they’ll trample them with their hooves and then swing around and knock you down.  This passage is frequently quoted as being, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine.”  For a long time, I wondered what this meant.  Pearls are used to represent knowledge or truths.  There’s a saying I heard once that amused me to no end.  It says, “Don’t ever try to teach a pig how to sing; it’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.”  If you have knowledge of something, whether it’s spiritual or about worldly things, and this knowledge is important to you, be aware of who you share it with.  If you share your truth with people who are not in a position to appreciate and hear what you’re saying, then they are likely to belittle what they don’t understand and try to make you feel foolish for having told them.
·        “Ask and you will receive, look and you will find, knock and you will be admitted.  For the asker always gets, the seeker finds and whoever knocks is admitted.  Is there any person among you who, being asked by his son for bread, would give him a stone, or being asked for a fish, would give him a snake?  If you, villains that you are, know enough to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in the skies give good things to those asking Him!  This passage brings to mind the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water.  The song can be talking about being a good friend and, on the surface, it appears to be so.  What if you look at the song as being from God to you?  God is on your side.  And God is always willing to give you help if you need it.  God is always listening to you and is ready to help.  Often, we are like three-year olds.  A three-year old is always ready to say, “I can do it.  I can do it.”  They never want to accept help until they are nearly defeated.  When they do ask for help, there is always someone there ready to lend a hand.  So next time, do they ask for help?  Not usually.  Throughout life, there seems to be a constant struggle to know when to ask for help and what we should ask for.  When it comes to matters of spirit or matters of the heart, you can always ask God for help, even if you think you can do it yourself.   As for WHAT to ask for?  Ask for what you NEED.  God will always give you what you need.  You probably won’t get the race car or win the lottery, but if you need a shoulder to cry on or you want to feel loved, God always grants your prayers.
·        “So everything you want people to do for you, you do the same for them, because that’s the law and the prophets.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  What comes around goes around.  You reap what you sow.  Are you starting to see the pattern?
·        “Go in the narrow door; because the door is wide and the road is broad leading off to destruction, and many people are going that way. Whereas how narrow the door and how constricted the road leading off to life, and how few people find it!  Take the road less traveled.   It’s easy to take the easy money, to do less than your best, to do enough to get by or to ignore a situation that might force you to grow.  It’s much harder, yet more rewarding, to step up to the plate, to go the extra mile, to follow your passions or to admit you’re wrong when you are and be willing to learn from your mistake.
·        “Be careful of pseudo-prophets who come to you in the clothing of lambs and are rapacious wolves inside.  (Wolf in sheep’s clothing.) You’ll know them by the fruit they bear: you don’t get grapes from a thorn-tree or figs from a thistle-bush, do you?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, while the rotten tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree can’t bear bad fruit, and a rotten tree can’t bear good fruit either.  Any tree not bearing good fruit gets cut down and thrown into the fire.  So definitely you’ll know them by the fruit they bear.  I believe this is where the concept of ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ comes from.  This is also the idea of something looking too good to be true.  It’s not that good things can’t happen, but if you look at where it’s coming from and ask yourself if it makes sense, then you’ll be able to tell.
·        “Not everyone saying ‘Lord, Lord’ to me will get into the kingdom of the skies, but only those who do the will of my Father in the skies.  Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord didn’t we prophesy in your name and exorcise demons in your name and work many wonders in your name?’ “And I will say to them, ‘I must confess I never met you; go away from me, workers of lawlessness.’  It’s not enough to merely give lip service to good deeds or to do good things for reasons that are self-serving.  There are a lot of people who make a production of going to church, giving to charity or working for fundraising functions that are doing it for their ego alone.  Jesus was talking about doing things from your heart.  It is only then that you are doing God’s work.  God’s work is always work of love.
·        “So anyone who hears these words from me and does them, will become like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock, and the rain came down and the floods came and the winds hurled themselves at the house, and it didn’t fall because it was grounded on the rock.  And anyone who hears these words form me and doesn’t do them, will become like a stupid man who built his house on sand, and the rain came down and the floods came and the winds beat at the house, and it fell, and its downfall was tremendous.”  If you build the foundation of your life on truth, love and hope, everything you do that stems from that will be strong and solid.  If you ignore truth, inflict misery on others, and base your life on ego-centered things, your life and dreams will dissolve like sand through your fingers.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Do You Know Him?

Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations.  Psalm 119:89-90, NKJV


 The One Who called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to fully bless him if he would follow Him in a life of faith is the same Person Who today calls us out of the world and promises to bless us if we follow Him in a life of faith.


The One Who delivered His children from bondage to slavery in Egypt with a titanic display of power is the same Person Who was crucified then rose from the dead to deliver His children today from the bondage of sin.


The One Who halted the entire invasion of Canaan by the Israelites while He extended His grace to one Canaanite prostitute is the same Person today Who stops to care for and extend His grace to sinners.


The One Who answered Elijah's prayer and sent down the fire to consume the sacrifice on Mount Carmel and then sent down the rain to end the three-year drought in Israel is the same Person today Who hears and answers prayer. Do you know Him?

Blessings

Friday, February 24, 2012

How and Where God Speaks

"The hand of the Lord was upon me there, and He said to me, 'Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.'" Ezekiel 3:22 


God speaks in many different ways to His children. He spoke through a bush to Moses. He spoke through a donkey to Balaam. He spoke through prophets to His kings. He speaks through other believers. He speaks directly to us through the invisible Holy Spirit. And He speaks even through circumstances. 

When God wants to speak a very important word directly to us without interruption from the noise of our busy lives, he will take us "into the plain." The plain is a place of no distractions and no other persons. It is a place of silence. It can be a place of great need as it often fails to have the normal provisions we are accustomed to. It can be a place we go to voluntarily to seek His face, or we can be moved there without choice by His supernatural ability. More often, it is the latter method that brings us into the plain. In modern times, it often means a separation from our normal activities such as jobs or families. 

The plain can also be a place where we discover afresh that God's hand has been on us all the time. When we are so busy with life, we sometimes forget that God's hand is still there, gently leading our path. When our lives get so busy that we are not listening or responding to His gentle touch, He must take more aggressive measures to get our attention. Thus, the plain is one of those appointed times of one-on-one communication with our heavenly Father. No distractions, no people, no beautiful surroundings to capture our thoughts. It is a barren place designed to allow us to seek and hear clearly. When He speaks, we need to be able to listen. We hear much better in the plain.

Do you need to hear God's voice today? Is your life such that you cannot even hear His voice? Each day God calls us to our own mini-plain in order to speak to us and for us to hear. If we neglect this time of open communication, we may be invited to His plain in order to hear without distraction. Pray that you might make time to hear.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Call to Discipleship


Read Matthew 4:18-19; Romans 15:1- 13
Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. … There is trust in God, but no following of Christ. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What is a disciple? Jesus said, Follow Me (Matt. 4:19; 9:9). Jesus did not mean that they should just physically follow Him on the road, as we really can’t do that now. Rather, this is a call to be set apart, challenged, andtaught so we see and adhere to the call and mission Christ gives us. The word "disciple" literally means someone who pledges to be a “learner.” Moreover, it is someone who follows another's teaching, and adheres to it. It is a commitment and a process to undertake the learning, and, as a Christian, a yearning to imitate Jesus! 

So, are you a Christian who really seeks to follow Jesus? If not, what is in the way of His Way? What could possibly be better for you and those around you? 

Discipleship is more than a call; it is a lifestyle that is never to stop, that must never stop until we are called home to eternity with our Lord. It is the instigation and flow for the Christian life; it is our continual devotion, worship, learning, growth, and practice in Christ as LORD over all. 

Discipleship is also reciprocal. That is, when one learns, he/she makes the commitment to train someone else. That is what Jesus meant by, “I will make you fishers of men." It is not just catching them and then storing them (fish were processed and sold for the betterment and use of the community). It is training, and placing, so they, too, can catch, train, and place! Discipleship is the primary earthly goal of the Church as a whole, and of the Christian as an individual. It is our duty, and the one thing Christ directly commands us to do (Matt. 28:19-20). In so doing, we will become like Him in character and share His outlook and concerns (Luke 6:39-40). We are never to make disciples in our image—who we are or how we think, feel, and act—but in the image of Christ!
  • We are to become His disciples!
  • We are to be discipled!
  • We are to disciple others so they can, in turn, disciple others.
  • If you are a pastor or church leader, you can’t lead others to know and grow in Christ unless you are growing in Christ yourself. If you dare to do so, you are slapping Christ in the face with your feeble pride!
This is all about living our lives for Christ—following, learning, listening, observing, and experiencing life directly with Jesus through His Word along with council and instructions from godly, mature Christians. Then, we are to carry that learning and experience to others (Matt. 10:1-15; the Book of Acts).

Are you still thirsting? Christ gives the invitation not only to others but to you. He is the fountainhead. He has died and is risen. He offers the only way to eternal life, asking only that you admit your need, raise the empty hands of faith, and accept His gift. What is eternal life? It is meaning in life now as well as living one’s life forever. Drink deep. Jesus offers a brimming cup. –Francis Schaeffer

It all comes down to a decision. Will we make our faith real and impacting, relinquishing our pride so we can learn and grow and, in turn, teach others, or will we plant our rears in the pew, so that our only impact is our butt prints in that pew?! 

Let us make sure our impact comes from a life transformed and passed on to the people around us! 

What we need to learn for today:
Discipleship has a cost. Following Christ will cost us, requiring effort and consistency (Matt. 8:18-22; 10:38; Luke 9:57-58; 14:27). The original disciples left their families and good jobs (Matt. 10:37; 19:27; Luke 9:59-62; 14: 25-26; 33)! Jesus did not call “bums” who had nothing better to do! 

Jesus expects us to know what we are getting into and embrace it with vigor and faith. Nothing can come before Him (Matt. 3:8; 6:33; Luke 14:15-24; John 8:31; 14-15)! 

The cost is worth it! We must embrace our call and responsibility to be discipled and make disciples! If we are truly willing to learn and apply what Christ taught, we will truly be His disciples! The Church will be on fire by the Spirit and will impact the world! What we gain will far outweigh any suffering or loss on our part (Mark 10:28-30; 1 Cor. 15:58)! If and when we hear God’s call depends on our ears, our will, and our attitude (Matt. 22:14). 

God does not force or plead with us; He merely presents us with the option (Isaiah 6:8)! We must say, as Isaiah said, “Here I am, send me!” For real discipleship to take place, we must allow our spiritual eyes to be opened and our will to be relinquished to His. Then, our churches will grow in prayer, worship, and maturity—so revival may take place! 

Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. Are you doing that? Let us allow the power of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and break our wills so we can be receptive to our Lord and Savior, and so we can do as He called us to do! 

We are called to mentor and instruct others in the faith for Christ’s glory! This is what Discipleship is all about, yet it seems this is not done in many of today’s churches! 
Sometimes, the opposite is done! Paul also opens his heart to his readers and to us, and becoming very vulnerable and candid. He seeks their prayers and support. And, in his final closing, he is still overflowing with the magnitude of the greatness of God's grace! Emperor Nero may have martyred him, but his voice prevails today, nearly 2000 years later, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul in the Romans passage challenges us in several categories:
  • Condescension of the weak and the lost is an extreme assault both on the character of our Lord and on His instruction to us!
  • A Christian must never, ever be so filled with pride that he or she is arrogant and callous toward others!
  • The mature Believer should be able to give up his or her selfish desires and inclinations for the good of others, so to be an example of Christ.
  • The Bible was written for our benefit and instruction, and filled with hope, purpose, and meaning to enable us to live the Christian life.
  • Paul prays for love and concord among the Believers for the worship of God—the chief basis for the church.
  • The Scriptures prophesy the coming together of Jew and Gentile in the service and glory of God.
  • Paul passionately urges the Christians in Rome (and us, too) that who we are in Christ must be demonstrated by relating to others.
  • We are called to glorify Christ in all that we do! This includes Paul, the Apostle, as well as us as Believers.
  • Paul then tells us of his experience and passion as a missionary raising support because his Call needed to be supported. Paul, in modeling, speaking, and writing directs us to the urgency of the Gospel and the need of the world to hear it. He desires prayers and respect. We must give the same to one another.
  •  We must be careful not to put down others whose faith is not strong.
  • Be willing and able to disciple others in the faith with guidance, support, and in prayer.
  • Live as an encourager to others.
The call for us is in the realm of basic Discipleship. The more experienced and mature Christian is called to walk alongside new and less mature Christians to help them grow so they can glorify Christ.
The true follower of Christ will not ask, "If I embrace this truth, what will it cost me?” Rather he will say, "This is truth. God help me to walk in it, let come what may!” -- A.W. Tozer
To be a real, effectual disciple of Christ means we live a life that is disciplined to His precepts and obedient to His will and Spirit. There is no way we can lead others to Him when we are not being discipled ourselves. Unless we are committed to His Way, we will go nowhere of real meaning in our Christian life!
  • For Discipleship to happen, Christians are to remove all aspects of pride and arrogance from their thinking and actions! The mature Christian has the obligation—the imperative command—to disciple others with time, love, and patience.
  • In the above passages, the Jewish Christians were trying to force unneeded commands and procedures on the new Gentile converts. They were exercising their own version of lordship to the exclusion of Christ. We cannot flaunt ourselves because of our maturity or lack of it. We are to be dedicated to unity rather than to strife and envy.
  • Envy is one of the most destructive forces on earth, and will bring down leaders and ministries faster than the imagination can allow! Christ's focus was pleasing God and helping others. What is yours?
  • In verse three, which is one of the most quoted passages in the New Testament, Paul is quoting Psalm 69:9. Since God was able to deny Himself, it is ludicrous to think that our pride is bigger than Him so that we do not need to be humble! Yet, many Christians act as though this were true! We forget that our Lord suffered for the benefit of others, and to the exclusion of Himself. This must be our model and pattern in service to others, the reason for the importance of being humble (1 Pet. 5).
  • The Scriptures were written for us—for our benefit, for our learning, and for our growth (1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 Pet. 1:10-12), all by divine inspiration! Do we acknowledge God's Word the way we do money? Do we trust others to handle our money, but not trust them to disciple our souls? All this must transpire by our unity (vs. 1:21-23; 3:23; 5:2, 11; 8:17-30; 10:8-10).
  • From our studying, to our mentoring, to our governing, to our hospitality, to our public encounters—all must be done by one mind and mouth. We must work as a body, maintaining our individual personalities, but having unified vision and purpose to glorify God. If this is not so, the result will be chaos and strife—Satan's favorite playground! We cannot glorify God in the midst of envy and strife or in the presence of anger and bitterness. We cannot be known for our negatives, for they will accomplish nothing. Our focus must be on the positives.
  • We as Christians have a debt to pay because of our gratitude for what Christ has done. We must consider reaching the lost as an opportunity to obey our call. The whole purpose of the Jewish nation was to model God’s redemptive plan to all of humanity. Now the baton has been passed to the Christian (Gen. 12).
  • We are to be rooted in humility, as our Lord was (Mark 10:45). This means mutual acceptance of others, even those whose culture and beliefs are different. Yet, it is amazing how we Christians exclude one another over trivial items, causing many church splits and schisms! By this, we have created a poor reputation in the world. We are often the butt of jokes that we have well earned.
  • Know this wonderful fact: God accepted you. You, in turn, must accept others! At the same time, we are to beware, as a wild animal will tear at another animal's weakness and frailty. We have to ask ourselves, do we do the same with others, and still seek to praise the Lord?
  • Christ bears our stupidities, and has patience with us when we are totally undeserving! We are to seek the good in others, as our Lord did, and be a blessing to others. We are not to seek self-gratification at the expense of others.
We have to realize that it is as impossible to be a Christian hypocrite as it is to be half pregnant. Either you are or you are not. The fruit will show your true colors. Jesus modeled and preached this. In doing so, He fulfilled prophecy. The primary goal of our Lord has always been to sanctify all (all people groups, tribes, nations, etc.) people from sin (Rev. 7:9). God did not save us to be self-centered; He saved us to be His ambassadors wherever we are and whenever we go! Paul used the Scriptures to prove this point. Keep in mind that the people of Babel sought their own strength (Gen 11). God wants us to seek Him Who is the greater strength and purpose!
Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful--Christian community is the final apologetic. Francis Schaeffer
Hope is the effect of obedience and trust in our Lord (Heb. 6:18). If you have no hope, then you have no vision or purpose, and no trust in the One who loves.
It all comes down to the decision of whether we will make our faith real and impacting, relinquishing our pride to allow us to learn, grow, and teach others, or we will plant our rears in the pew, thus making our only impact our butt prints in that pew! Let us make sure our impact comes from a life transformed and passed on to the people around us!
Questions:
1. What is the definition of a disciple to you?
2. Why would a church decide not to have an effective Discipleship program?
3. What stops pastors and church leaders from taking Discipleship seriously?
4. According to Christ, what is more important than Discipleship as a call for the church?
5. Have you known Christians who flaunt themselves or are condescending to new Christians? Have you ever done this? How do you feel about this? What would Jesus think?
6. Christianity does not end at repentance and conversion. It begins there! How has this been so in you? If not, what is in the way?
7. Why would and should more experienced and mature Christians walk alongside new and less mature Christians?
8. What are your thoughts about our discussion of pride and arrogance? Have you been challenged, or do you feel we are barking up the wrong tree in our emphases?
9. Why does a Christian have the obligation—the imperative command—to disciple others in growth with time, love, and patience?
10. What would be some excuses not to do it? How would Christ receive these excuses?
11. In what ways do Christians present their own version(s) of lordship, to the exclusion of Christ (How do we see Jesus—as lord, or Lord)?
12. Why would dedication to unity rather than to strife and envy benefit your church?
13. How could you present an argument to your leadership that discipleship is paramount for the church?
14. What would be their motivation for doing so and how would Christ receive that?
15. Why is envy one of the most destructive forces on earth? How can it bring down leaders as well as ministries?
16. Christ's focus was pleasing God and helping others. What is yours?
17. Since God was able to deny Himself, can your pride be bigger than Him? If so, what do you need to do to become humble?
18. How does it make you feel that our Lord suffered for the benefit of you and others to the exclusion of Himself? Does this give you hope and encouragement? What about motivation?
19. What are the patterns that you and your church assume in serving others?
20. The Scriptures were written for you, for your benefit, for your learning, and for your growth, all by divine inspiration. How does this, or how can this motivate you to get in the Word daily?
21. Do you acknowledge God's Word the way you do money? Do you trust others to handle your money, but not to disciple your soul?
22. Why can’t you glorify God in the midst of envy and strife or in anger and bitterness?
23. Are you and your church known for your negatives and/or positives? If so, what will you accomplish, or what will be your focus?
24. How can you and your church realize a depth of gratitude for what Christ has done so you can see the lost as opportunities and recognize the call to reach them?
25. If God accepted you, why should you not, in turn, accept others?
26. A wild animal will tear at another animal's weakness and frailties. Can you or your church do the same to others and still praise the Lord?
27. Christ bears our stupidities. What are those for you and your church? What do you think it means that Christ bears our stupidities?
28. How do you feel knowing that Christ has love, patience, and grace with us even though we are totally undeserving?
29. What have you or your church done in the past six months to promote or model peace and unity?
30. How can your church function collectively, with all of its individual personalities, in unified vision and purpose to glorify God?
31. Why would having no hope cause you and your church to have no vision and purpose for Discipleship, or not to trust the One who loves?
32. How can you embrace what discipleship means, and apply it in the time you have left?
33. Jesus ended His time on earth with an imperative command for individuals as well as for the Church to make more disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Consequently, what has been your church’s response to this? (Consider there is nothing we do as a church that could be more important that this! It is even more important than evangelism, which is our responsibility; but the only imperative command we are given by Christ is to do discipleship!)
34. How does it make you feel that few of us ministers will undertake discipleship for ourselves or train others because of pride, lack of time, or misplaced priorities?
35. How does the fact that most churches do not do discipleship affect the Kingdom of God and our call to the Great Commission?
36. What can you either do or remove so that you can embrace discipleship with vigor and faith so that nothing can come before Him?
37. How can you find the balance and build the time to be and make Disciples? Prayer and having a good person to disciple you will allow it to happen! Can you see what you need to give up and what you need to keep in order to become His committed child?
38. What have you or your church done in the past six months to promote or model Discipleship? What should you be doing with Discipleship?
39. What is the decision you will commit to about Discipleship for yourself?
40. What is the decision you will commit to about Discipleship for your church? How will you do it? What is the plan? Start date? Who will do this? How will you communicate this to the rest of the church? Do not forget prayer!
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. …Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
God saved us, not to be self-centered, but to be His ambassadors wherever we are and whenever we can!

Monday, February 20, 2012

STRENGTH FOR THE JOURNEY




Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee.  Joshua 1:9


What do you need when you find yourself suddenly in charge?


        How do you face daily challenges?

        How do you make difficult decisions?

        How do you balance conflict, fatigue, and the unexpected?


You can’t do it alone. 
     God goes with you through
          every facet of life’s journey.


Hold on to the Lord’s promises   everywhere your journey takes you.


        He will be continually present.

        He will bring you through challenges and difficulties.

        He will give you a never-ending supply of strength.


The Lord is ever faithful.

        He wraps you in his life, forgiveness, and hope.
        He surrounds you with Christian support.
        He goes before you, providing strength for the journey.


Be strong and of a good courage;
be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed:
for the LORD thy God is with thee.
                               Joshua 1:9