A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost. . . . 33 So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own. 34 “Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? 35 Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!”
What if this was the exam you had to pass to become a Discipler? How would you do?
Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do if salt lost its saltiness. As I grow older it seems that I have to use that salt shaker more and more. It’s more likely that my taste buds are failing than that the salt is less potent. In Jesus’ day salt was a major preservative. If it were to be ineffective, meat would spoil. Jesus was using that analogy, no doubt, to emphasize that anything less than full commitment to him would decrease the effectiveness of their witness.
The overriding teaching of these questions is that discipleship requires an all-out commitment, a total surrender. Paul’s admonition to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1 is much the same.
The importance of Jesus’ teaching is underlined by the expression he uses three times as a warning to everyone who wants to follow him. He indicates that a professed follower “cannot be my disciple” if he or she fails in one of these three ways (vv. 26, 27, 33). It’s helpful to read the parallel statement to v. 26 in Matthew 10:37, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” to understand the use of “hate.”
Thinking of these demands as a two-sided coin may be helpful. On the one side is clearly the unlimited grace of God that calls sinners to discipleship (“whosoever will may come.”) The other side expresses the kinds of cost we may have to consider.
(Paraphrase of F. B. Meyer n Our Daily Homily)
Because the essential purpose of the church is to make disciples, it is self-evident that such a task must begin with the individual members of the body. We must be the means by which disciples are made. Paul expresses it clearly,” And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). 1-16-19
I once interviewed for a job with a company over in Fort Wayne. When we finished, my interviewer made me a monetary offer well more than I was making at the time; my boss wasn’t even pulling in that kind of money. I could hardly hold my excitement, but then he went on. “Understand we expect our people to work long hours for the good of the company. There’s a mandatory meeting every morning and one on Friday afternoon. If you have a day and are at home and we call you in, you come in, the same with vacation time. If you’re sick, you’ll need a doctor’s slip to come back, and you best not miss two days in a row.” He gave a couple of days for me to think, but I didn’t need them. To me there wasn’t any job worth sacrificing that much of my life, as well as my family’s. Thanks, but no thanks! Without a doubt I made the right decision staying with my old job; besides the fact the other company went belly-up three years later.
It appears many who call themselves Christians take the same attitude when following Christ. We live in a generation where it seems the Gospel has been watered down by some. Get saved, be nicer and show up for church occasionally, otherwise just go on with life as normal. I may come across critical with that remark, but I know ones with this mindset. One friend told me, “I’m saved, but religion isn’t the most important thing in my life right now.” Another, “I don’t read the Bible much or pray, but me and God, we’ve got it worked out.” Still another, “Don’t you think you’re a little over the top with your faith? I’m a Christian, too; but I’m not going to shove down other’s throat.”
Martin Luther made the comment, “To be a Christian, you have to be self-hater.” Luther was totally sold out to, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” But he also knew the importance of these verses; deny ourselves, our wants, our earthly passions, take up our cross and follow Jesus. Don’t concern yourself in matters that take your attention from the One who redeemed us. Live a consecrated life that points others to the fact you are not practicing a religion, rather putting Christ first in your very existence, because that’s what He did for you. The world may not understand and even chastise you for your dedicated heart, but God will see you with love and compassion; you are one of His.
Had I taken the job I referred to, I would have been sacrificing a great deal to only experience occupational and possibly financial death several years later. With a total commitment to my Lord and my Savior, I know even if I were to lose everything including my life, I gain more than I can ever imagine, for I have the promise of being with Christ for eternity in Heaven. That my friend, is worth far more than all the world has to offer. Awesome!
Philippians 1:21 – “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Thanks for reading
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted [that it was really He]. 18 Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority (all power of absolute rule) in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age.” (The Amplified Bible)
It could be said that The Gospels are a lot like a Readers Digest story. We get a look at the end of the story before knowing how it works out. (Actually, you could go way back in the Old Testament to read of the real beginning.) Regarding the church, however, earlier in Matthew Jesus tells his disciples that he will build his church (1:18).
Now, in chapter 28, he commissions his disciples/followers to fulfill that promise. How? By making disciples, that is to say, by reproducing themselves. (This may be the first cloning.) Even though they had been with Jesus since his resurrection,some of them, who were still reeling from the death and resurrection they had witnessed, evidently had doubts (see v 17) and must have been skeptical about this challenge. So, Jesus sandwiches his charge between two very important statements.
1) I have all authority (v. 18)
2) I will be with you to the very end. (v. 20)
After Pentecost, the disciples moved fearlessly and courageously into the world to preach the gospel, completely confident in thepromised presence and protection of Jesus, the head of the body, the Church.
The primary charge to the church remains the same today: make disciples.
When a group of committed followers of Jesus acknowledge him as lord, give testimony to their faith by baptism, and commit themselves to obedience, you have “made disciples.”
The question, then, is how do we corporately fulfill our charge. J.D. Greear in Gaining by Losing offers three possible analogies of the church.
It ought to clear which of those analogies best pictures the obedient church on mission. A disciple-making church is one that equips and sends its people into their neighborhoods, work places, and mission fields to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
As someone observed, “Sports is life with the volume turned up” There are many applications from the world of sports to life, and even—as the New Testament makes clear—to the Christian life. A true Christian lives with the volume turned up.
Here’s an example. At six years old, in the small town of Onesti in Communist-controlled Romania, Nadia Comaneci began her gymnastics training. Incredibly, by the age of 14, at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, little Nadia would not only win multiple gold medals but be the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10. Her routines were so exceptional that she received seven perfect scores in one Olympics. She has been an inspiration to millions.
How might this apply to Christians? Should we strive to win a gold medal? Or would that be setting the bar too high? Should we be in training? Or is that unnecessary? Perhaps we give ourselves a bye, thinking we can never reach perfection anyway, so why try? But note what the Bible says:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run, therefore, in such a way to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Cor 9:24-25)
For Nadia, training sessions were rigorous, lasting up to six or seven hours in a single day. She needed to follow her coach’s instructions precisely, she needed to grasp the concept of muscle memory, she needed to become almost robotic. For Nadia, the blood, sweat, and tears was worth it. She was even able to escape the Communist regime.
So what is the prize that Christians should train for? The last chapters of the last book of the Bible are about life with the volume turned up.
What a privilege—to be the bride of Christ! Could anyone not want to win this prize? To train for this gold medal? To become the purist bride ever? To sit beside the King of the universe at the most glorious wedding feast ever? To be as stunningly beautiful as the futuristic Holy City?! Talk about perfect 10s!
APPLICATION: Lots of contestants at the Olympic games are excited about the potential of taking their place on the medal stand. But do all win the prize? Unfortunately not. Similarly, many people think they’re Christians and expect to be part of the bride of Christ. But will they all win the prize? Unfortunately not. It’s exciting to contemplate winning the gold medal, but we’ll need to turn up the volume and get into serious training. (Remember, faith without works is dead.) We certainly don’t want to miss out on being part of the beautiful bride of Christ. The alternative isn’t pretty.
The cost of redemption was the blood of the perfect Lamb, the Lamb of God. According to His grace the forgiveness of our sins was granted by the shedding of His blood. This Lamb is described in Revelation 5:6 as “a Lamb standing as though it had been slain.” The work that Jesus did on the cross is remembered in eternity and it should be remembered here on earth. Those who surrounded the Lamb fell down “and they sang a new song, saying, “‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”
Ephesians tells us that the sacrifice of this perfect Lamb on the cross was planned according to the grace of our God. “A plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” -Ephesians 1:10. In His sovereignty God knew that sin would enter the world and that we would all fall short of His glory, but He chose not to leave us there. Instead He put on flesh born in human form He walked this earth among us only to be crucified by us. But His blood had to be shed in order for our sins to be forgiven. His blood was shed for the forgiveness of the sins of those who shed it. Redemption is a powerful word, but we must never lose sight of the precious cost it is accompanied by. Yes, we have been redeemed, because His blood was shed. He is worthy of our praise. Our redemption should bring us to our knees before Him as we praise the Lamb who was slain as a ransom for our souls.
Have you ever found a verse or passage in the Bible that really disturbed you? Perhaps it was a text that convicted you of sin, and you knew you had to deal with it or suffer a sense of separation from God. Or, maybe it’s a warning about the future that you’re frightened to think about. In today’s reading, Peter writes, “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil,” v. 17.
The Apostle Paul writes a similar thought in Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. Ouch! Suffering is not something I like to experience. What’s more, there are many Scriptures that seem to offer the same kind of alarming prospect. Here are a few:
John 16:33 – In this world you will have trouble.
Acts 14:22 – We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
2 Timothy 1:8; 2:3 – Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God … like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:12 – In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
“Trouble, tribulation, persecuted”—those are words I don’t like, either. I know that “suffering produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3), but is that the only way to learn to stick it out? Well, let’s look again at today’s assigned reading from 1 Peter 3. The Apostle describes the person who “would love life and see good days,” listing positive traits that demonstrate a God-fearing way of life. Such people “must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it,” vv. 10-11.
The conclusion: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer,” v. 11. In God’s promises to answer our prayers there is always an explicit or implied “if.” Obedience seems to be a prerequisite to answered prayer.
Peter then asks an interesting question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” That introduces the subject of suffering “for what is right”; when you do, he says, “You are blessed.” But when your good deeds bring opposition and suffering, then what? He answers that question more fully in chapter 2:
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” [Isaiah 53:9]. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:19-23)
“To this you were called,” Peter writes, and he cites Jesus as the example of how to suffer righteously. No “getting even,” no revenge. Why? Because he yielded himself completely to God, leaving vengeance to him, as we must do, also.
Remember that Jesus, though he was 100% God was also 100% man, and he had emptied himself of his rights to exercise divine power during his life on earth (Philippians 2:7 where “made himself nothing” = empties in the language of the New Testament). He depended completely on the Holy Spirit to enable him to bear his suffering without complaint.
And that’s the secret to our handling the troubles and suffering we may face. It’s by trusting God completely. When difficulties arise, it’s as if God is saying, “Will you trust me in this?” Will you? And don’t forget, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). 1/9/19
January 8, 2019
“I’m too old to go on a short term mission trip.” “My required medications would inhibit my ability to go on a mission trip.” “I don’t think my doctor would release me to go overseas.” I listened as these dear senior saints at Adult Conference explained to Jay Bell all the reasons that they did not feel compelled to join him on a mission trip. I shook my head, disappointed by these older believers, and their fears.
These senior saints seemed fearful, chained by anxiety, unwilling to take risks. I wanted to be bold, adventurous, more like Simon Peter, who was quick to volunteer, a little fiery and quick to boldly proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God.(Matthew 16:16) Just as I was not dissuaded from mission trips by those around me, who were afraid to step into an adventure with Jay Bell, Peter was not confused by the Saducees, the Pharisees, or the conjectures of those seeking one of Jesus’ miracles. We cannot make a decision about Jesus by taking the temperature of the people around us or checking to see if there is a culture that agrees with us. The question for us to answer is: Who does Jesus say He is and how will I respond to who He is?
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 calls us to respond to the claims of Christ with our own investment. The talents represent opportunities to use the abilities that God has endowed us with to boldly follow Him. We have been given our assignments, our mission, and God, Himself has bestowed the abilities and gifts we need to successfully complete our mission. Too often, we believe that we do not have “enough” to move forward.
We live in a “never enough” sort of world. Trying to be a parent of toddlers leaves you depleted and exhausted feeling like you have failed in a Pinterest perfect world. Your best efforts at your job fall short of the promotion you deserve. Your spouse trades you in for a shinier, better model and it’s easy to see why Christ followers begin to buy into the “never enough” model of today’s lifestyles. The God of Peter brings a more-where-that-came-from abundance instead.
“The Lord asked him, ‘what is that in your hand?’ ‘A staff.” (Exodus 4:2)
“Elisha asked her…’What do you have in the house?’(2 Kings 4:2)
God fashions amazing and beautiful stuff out of small and inadequate supplies. God takes Moses’ staff and creates an instrument of authority and security. In God’s hands, the widow’s small bit of oil becomes an unending supply that bought freedom for her sons and hope for a future. God, who loves us, loves to take a little and make it much with His abundant resources.
Years have passed since I sat in that Adult conference session and I was astounded at the senior saints’ reluctance to step into what God might be calling them to invest. Now, wallowing in my own fears, I weigh the risks. I count the costs of spending limited time, energy, and resources that God has blessed me with. God calls me to invest the talents (gifts) that He has given me and I am reluctant to part with them in a world of “not enough”. I, suddenly, see my response to the question that Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am”, unmasked. If I say I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, I can’t ignore (bury) the talents (gifts) that God has poured out on me.
The third servant, fearful he might fail, never tried to succeed. He feared life and his responsibilities. This paralyzed him with anxiety, so he did nothing to invest what had been entrusted to him. It is possible that the “one talent” man thought his talent was not enough. Warren Wiersbe says “Were it not for the one talent people in our world, very little would be accomplished.”
How will we respond to the question, “Who do you say I am”? If we affirm with Peter, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then we are called to be kingdom investors. In the world of not enough, our God speaks abundant, outrageous life. He creates, He innovates, He turns trash into treasure, and He takes a dab of oil and makes a never ending supply. The God of more than enough has gifted and enabled you to be a faithful steward.
Having endured another year of domestic political upheaval and universal turmoil and unrest, what do you suppose the prospects are for lasting peace and harmony in our nation or any other? What would such a world look like? Can we even imagine what it could be?
Are these pipe dreams? No doubt. But why? What would it take to resolve the conflicts at home and abroad? History has demonstrated conclusively that no form of government has ever succeeded in producing the Utopia that everyone wishes for. We continue to hope for a strong, compassionate person or party that could undo the wrongs and establish a just and righteous society.
Rest assured, faithful followers of Jesus! Such a benevolent leader has been promised and is on schedule to establish just such a kingdom. He is described in today’s Bible reading, and he will be filled with God’s Spirit. Note a few of his characteristics in Isaiah 11:
Having entered a new year, we are expectant and hopeful that 2019 will bring changes on our planet with a restoration of peace and harmony around the world. Past experience may dampen our hopes, but today’s Bible readings give us assurance of the fulfillment of God’s ultimate plan for an everlasting kingdom of peace. We don’t know when it will begin, but the prophets state with certainty the forthcoming prospect. God’s eternal kingdom is a sure thing. Hallelujah!
Maybe you remember the hype over the “Prayer of Jabez.” Probably also “Y2K.” What does it say about Christians when we get caught up in such fads, which do not represent the full counsel of God? Are we gullible? Are our feet sufficiently grounded in the rock-solid truths of Scripture?
For a number of years I had in mind writing a book entitled Out of Context, but a good friend beat me to it. The title of his book is, Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible (2012). I highly recommend reading the book (I’ll loan you a copy if you’re interested). Guess what the first chapter is about: The “Jabez Prayer.”
Now it’s not only that mantra-like Jabez prayer that has been taken out of context. It’s tempting to take lots of verses about prayer out of context. “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt 7:7; Luke 11:9) could be misinterpreted as an automatic gimme, a vending machine that we stick a request in the slot and out pops whatever we want.
So what is the context? Note what God said through the prophet Isaiah: “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I look the other way; when you offer your many prayers, I do not listen” (Isa 1:15).Hmmm. That’s not good news for the vending machine theory. Sometimes the vending machine is turned off. But why?
To make progress in understanding how prayer works we need to back up to the basics of how our relationship with God works. (Note that the context for understanding individual verses about prayer is the whole Bible.) Just after receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses said to Israel, “Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God . . . so that it may go well with you” (Deut 6:17-18). In other words, God will bless those who obey his commands. For those who don’t obey—as in the case of the disobedient people at Isaiah’s time—God may even refuse to listen to their prayers!
Jesus made the same point on the night before his crucifixion: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you may ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14).
John underscored the point in his letter also: “Whatever we ask, we receive from God, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him” (1 John 3:22). And James said, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Get the point? Answer to prayer is rooted first and foremost in the big, little word “if”—if our lives are characterized by obedience/holiness, then we are in right standing to present our requests to the Lord. Otherwise—unfortunately—God may look the other way.
Now this has huge implications. We often focus on various ways to get God to answer our prayers, asking as many people as possible to pray for something, and so forth. But, rather than trying to get God to come our way and comply with what we want, shouldn’t our focus be moving toward his way so that we comply with what he wants?
Actually, that’s what the passage for today emphasizes: “If we ask anything according to his will . . .” (1 John 5:14). It’s not a matter of asking for anything we want and God determining what he’s willing to give us. It’s us determining as best we can what God’s will is, and then praying against the forces of wickedness that oppose his will.Remember how Jesus taught us to pray: “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Remember how Jesus himself prayed: “If it is possible, take this cup from me. But not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
APPLICATION: Maybe more important than what we say when we pray, is what we do when we’re not praying. Perhaps we should begin prayer meetings reading verses like 1 Peter 1:13-16; 2:1-5; 4:7-11.
The will of God, something that we all seek, something we all desire to know more fully for our lives. We pray to know it, we search for it. But what if it is right before our eyes? First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This is the will of God for you, rejoice, pray, give thanks. We may not know day to day moment by moment exactly where the Lord wants us to move but He will give us the wisdom we seek and His Word still speaks.
This is one of the passages I have known my whole life and most likely if you caught me on a good day I could tell it to you by heart. I picked up my Bible to read the passage for today and flew through it thinking “Oh! I know this one!” But then I stopped, verse 18 caught my attention like it hadn’t before. “… this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I know I’ve read this verse before, even recited it by heart, so why was it that I just now truly read this is His will?
His will for my life is that I rejoice always, in all things no matter what I am facing. His will is that I pray, that I speak to Him without ceasing. His will is that I give thanks in all circumstances, regardless of what my day brings. That is the will of God that I have prayed for and sought after. This is universal. So when I am staring down that giant, no clue which way to move, I can rejoice, pray, and give thanks. In all things God is good and I can do each of these things because of that goodness.
Prayer has a way of putting things in perspective, it shifts our focus higher. Prayer helps us to find what is worthy of rejoicing over and what is right before us to give thanks for. But remember this, it isn’t always obvious what we should rejoice over and be thankful for. And even in those moments when you can’t possibly imagine that there is anything worthy of rejoicing over in your circumstance remember this; His character is the same. His character is worthy of rejoicing over and is certainly something to be thankful for. So, in all things pray without ceasing.