Category Archives: religion

What Lies Ahead?

Curiosity about the future has been around since Adam & Eve.  No matter if someone is wealthy or poor, healthy or ill, young or old, the question of what lies ahead has never been far from their mind.  It’s spawned all sorts of belief systems from astrology to tea leaf readings, palmistry to numerology, Tarot cards to crystal balls and so forth.  Not knowing what lurks around the corner has always been a major contributor to many folks’ angst and anxiety.  However, a Christ disciple should be immune from such worries because of the unbreakable promises God’s made over the last 5,000 years.  No matter how bleak and dark things may be in this fallen world an adopted child of God has divine assurance that things work out perfectly in the end.  There will come a day when trials, hardships and uncertainty about what tomorrow’s gonna bring will disappear.  “…And they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever(Revelation 22:4-5).  To a humanist those are empty words but to Christians they tell us all we need know regarding what’s to become of us.  James S. Stewart wrote, “The man who is in Christ is right with God.  He may be far from perfection yet, but that union is the seed which contains within itself all the promise of the future.  In the face and in the soul of Christ, God sees what the man yet may be; and He asks nothing more.”

 

J.I. Packer wrote, “New Testament Christianity is a religion of hope, a faith that looks forward.  For the Christian, the best is always yet to be.  But how can we form any notion of that which awaits us at the end of the road?  Here the doctrine of adoption comes to our help.  To start with, it teaches us to think of our hope not as a possibility, not yet as a likelihood, but as a guaranteed certainty, because it is a promised inheritance.  The reason for adopting, in the first-century world, was specifically to have an heir to whom one could bequeath one’s goods.  So, too, God’s adoption of us makes us His heirs, and so guarantees to us, as our right (we might say) the inheritance that He has in store for us.”  Few things in the Bible are made as clear as what lies ahead.  We’re told repeatedly the damage Lucifer’s rebellion has wreaked will be a thing of the past.  Everything will be restored, including usWhen Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him(Colossians 3:4).  See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children – and indeed we are!  For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know Him.  Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed.  We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like Him, because we will see him just as He is (1 John 3:1-2).  We know our Redeemer not only defeated death but lives and is going to return.  His second coming is not a matter of “if” but of “when”.  “…Our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of His glorious body by means of that power by which He is able to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

 

If a man or woman has surrendered their life to Jesus, yet still frets over what might happen to them this side of heaven, they must come to understand they’re letting that useless fear steal their joy.  As a Christ disciple what one’s future is going to be like should be a settled issue.  It shouldn’t be a mystery.  It should make good sense.  God’s kingdom should be something we can always look forward to, no matter our circumstance.  We’re held securely in our Father’s hands and He’ll never let go of us.  As a leader in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I come in contact with many believers who, despite having the Holy Spirit residing in them, are severely disappointed over how their lives have turned out.  For some life’s been a cruel journey.  Some are getting up in years and have decided they have no future.  Others are depressed over unfulfilled dreams that’ve drained them of all ambition.  They wonder how God could’ve let them fail or they’re afraid they haven’t been “good enough” to receive His blessings.  What they all have in common is spiritual blindness.  What they don’t see is that what they manage to get done during their brief existence “in the flesh” is relatively insignificant in comparison to the kind of person they became while on earth.  Our character is what we’ll carry into eternity.  Everything else stays behind.  As Don Henley sang, “You don’t see no hearses with luggage racks.”  Speaking of eternal life, allow me to share some wisdom from the great Frederick Buechner: “We think of Eternal Life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends.  We would do better to think of it as what happens when life begins.”

 

Now, I’m not trying to downplay the fact that trepidation about what lies ahead is built into our basic DNA.  It is.  Christians know their forever is a lock but tomorrow is another thing altogether.  It’s natural to wonder what our planet and the universe in general is spinning towards.  Will the human race survive the bitter harvest of its evil biases and hatred?  Will some idiot “push the button” and annihilate everything that breathes?  Is there a city-sized asteroid on its way to destroy us in a flash?  Rarely does one find a science-based TV show regarding future events that holds out even a shred of hope mankind will survive in the long run (short of relocating to another compatible celestial orb).  While it’s no sin to contemplate such things it’s a crying shame if we let them dominate our thoughts and rob us of happiness.  The biggest mistake we can make is to think that we as individuals or as part of a collective have any modicum of control over what’s to take place.  God is, has been and always will be in complete control.  His will cannot be usurped.  And, because we know He’s loving, merciful and forgiving, we can relax and enjoy being a part of His plan.  As always, it’s a matter of trust.

 

We must stand firm on the fact the cosmos isn’t a “somehow-it-just-came-into-being” material entity that’s wholly self-sustaining.  Its present and future course is determined by personal factors – sources of energy and direction – that can’t be detected by physical senses or by physical sciences.  Those personal factors are the prerogatives of the three personalities of the Godhead we worship.  A person is free to reject that proposition and side with the secularists who seem rather unconcerned they don’t have any concrete answers to why anything exists at all.  Or that person can accept that In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) and take comfort in knowing God knows what He’s doing.  The Holy Word indicates that this world serves a vital purpose.  Therefore simple logic will tell us anything that has a purpose in God’s creation will continue to exist come hell or high water until such a time it no longer serves that purpose.  Dallas Willard wrote, “This present universe is only one element in the kingdom of God.  But it is a very wonderful and important one.”

 

Jesus told His disciples, Do not let your hearts be distressed.  You believe in God, believe also in me.  There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house.  Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you.  And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too (John 14:1-3).  Now, why would the Son of God promise to come back if He knew there wouldn’t be an earth to return to?  But the most exciting thing we can glean from those verses is that not only will we end up where He is but we’ll actively participate in the future government of the universe with Him!  To envision we’ll hang around the throne of God endlessly strumming harps and warbling “How Great is our God” isn’t Scriptural.  That’s the angels’ job.  We were made for so much more than that!  We’ll reign with Christ.  “…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  The Bible also says, You [the Lamb of God] have appointed them [believers] as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Revelation 5:10).

 

The point is our faithfulness over a “few things” in the here and now counts because it develops in us the kind of character that God can entrust us with “many things.”  After decades of trusting in Him, just imagine what an immense privilege it’ll be for God to place His trust in us.  Willard wrote, “A place in God’s creative order has been reserved for each one of us from before the beginnings of cosmic existence.  His plan is for us to develop, as apprentices to Jesus, to the point where we can take our place in the ongoing creativity of the universe.”  Wow!  Think of it this way, if you will: God intends for us to mature into Christ-like persons whom He’ll be confident He can not only set free in His universe but He’ll then empower us to do what we want to do on His behalf!  I don’t know about you but that’s astounding.  Now, while grace and salvation are not acquired by our works, God’s trust most definitely is.  Thus we must become disciplined, determined students of Jesus Christ and what He taught us.  Our Lord alluded back to Daniel 12:3 when He told His disciples “…The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43).  Righteousness is a state of being that must be merited so we’d best get busy meriting, right?

 

These promises of better days ahead are nothing new.  God’s been telling us about it for ages.  For look, I create the heavens and the earth all over again.  Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.  I create my city, Jerusalem.  It is joy, and her people are gladness.  No longer will be heard the sound of crying.  No longer babies dying, or mature people who do not live to the end of a full life.  When they build houses they will get to live in them.  When they plant vineyards they, not others, will be the ones who eat the fruit.  They shall not labor in vain or bear children to be destroyed.  Before they call on me I will answer.  Animals, even, will stop killing one another, and in my new world every kind of evil will be eliminated (Isaiah 65:17-25).  To clarify, “Jerusalem” is synonymous with “the peace of God.”  Near the end of the book of Isaiah God implies all races and nations will come together to praise Him in His glory.  At last peace will be the rule, not the exception.  When I consider the horrible atrocities taking place all over the globe today world peace seems like an impossibility.  But, as Jesus explained to His disciples, “…With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

 

Many of this planet’s inhabitants’ troubles have come about due to human beings trying to manufacture their own version of Jerusalem.  Mankind has a tendency to think, because we can do some things well, we surely can do everything well.  Yet one thing civilization will never be able to do is to transform the heart and mind of a human being.  Only God can.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from trying.  In every case it’s either the tyranny of a dictator, lawless anarchy or massive inefficiencies stemming from the unrestricted expansion of a bloated bureaucracy that prevents true change from occurring.  Only God has the power to fix what’s broken down here.  My grown son (who, sadly, is a non-believer) recently inquired, “Dad, what’s wrong with people?”  The only rational answer I can give him is to quote Jeremiah 17:9, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  Since he doesn’t care to hear anything even remotely “religious” I’ll have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me when I email him back and hope something I say will draw him closer to the truth that is Jesus Christ.

 

I like what Willard had to say about the future: “God’s way of moving toward the future is, with gentle persistence in unfailing purpose, to bring about the transformation of the human heart by speaking with human beings and living with and in them.  He finds an Abraham, a Moses, a Paul – a you.”  Obviously, we have our work cut out for us but it’s not in vain we labor.  Jesus is coming back.  And when He does all evil will be eradicated.  The government He’ll put us in charge of won’t have to deal with inherent corruption, injustice, brutality or meanness any longer.  Goodness and harmony will prevail.  Nearly a half millennium before Jesus was born in a lowly manger, mankind was told by a prophet of God: Your true king is coming to you, vindicated and triumphant, humble, mounted on a donkey.  His word will bring peace to the nations, and his supervision will take in all lands, from where his presence is centered on the farthest reaches of the earth (Zechariah 9:9).  God made good on the first half of that promise so there’s no reason to doubt He’ll come through on the second half of it, too.  Therefore Christians should walk confidently through this world with their heads held high.  The future isn’t frightening to those who belong to the Lord.  As Paul expressed so elegantly, For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).  Tomorrow?  I say bring it on because “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

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So What’s The Plan?

By the plan I mean your plan.  What are you going to contribute to the process of transforming your mind into one more harmonious with Christ’s?  We can all agree the Holy Spirit will oversee the foundational changes that need to take place inside of us but we must be cooperative participants in the work to be done or nothing noticeable is gonna happen.  When we surrender ourselves to Christ and make the decision to follow Him the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us immediately.  He then acts within our being to constantly usher the person of Jesus and the reality of the kingdom of God into our consciousness as we consult the Holy Word daily for guidance.  Therefore the value of His divine work can’t be overstated.  However, there’s an all-too-common mistake made today by believers who think that as long as they show up for church services and tithe regularly they’ve done all that’s requested of them.  Wrong.  As Dallas Willard wrote, “Reliance upon what the Spirit does to us or in us, as indispensable as it truly is, will not by itself transform character in its depths.  The action of the Spirit must be accompanied by our response, which cannot be carried out by anyone other than ourselves.”  In other words, when we choose to be a Christ disciple our work’s just beginning.  Thus we must develop a personal action plan for seeing to it that our part gets done.

 

Understand that just because we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior doesn’t mean our external circumstances will change at all.  The problems and difficulties that beat us down the day before will still be there post-conversion.  The Bible refers to them as temptations and they won’t stop roaring down the pike due to the Holy Spirit residing inside us.  What should be completely different, though, is how we perceive them.  We’re taught we should actually welcome them as confirmations of God’s glorious, never-ending goodness!  Is that hard to do?  You bet.  Yet James wrote, My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything (James 1:2-4).  Paul said as much, too: Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.  Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us(Romans 5:1-5).  Both saints advocate we meet troubles head on and without trepidation.  Obviously, possessing a fearless attitude of that magnitude requires quite a bit of discipline on our part.  And, as most of us know, discipline don’t come easy.  So we need a plan.

 

The largest stumbling block confronting us is that nowhere in the Bible are we told precisely how to do our part.  There’s no formulaic ABCs to adhere to because our particular path to salvation is as unique as our personality.  Now, what we’re to do and how we’re to behave as adopted children of God is made crystal clear throughout the Holy Word.  The Psalms and Proverbs are especially helpful and Paul’s letter to the Colossians (because he’d never preached to them in person) offers what’s probably the finest overview regarding spiritual formation in the New Testament.  Yet specific details on how I as an individual am to go about growing as a Christian aren’t available.  There must be a reason.  I think it’s that we’re to imitate Jesus to the best of our ability 24/7 and the only way to do that is to get to know Him as intimately as He knew His Heavenly Father.  And we get to know Jesus by studying how He lived His life, how He treated others, how He structured His entire human existence around maintaining His close relationship with His Father and how later on His disciples conducted themselves as they strove to pattern every aspect of their life after their Master’s.  So, really, how to put together our plan is no secret.  It’s simply a matter of approaching everything we do or say as if Jesus Himself were doing or saying it.  And, again, that takes discipline.  And discipline requires sacrifice.  Paul wrote, Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.  Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

 

Seems to me the only way to become a disciplined disciple is to devise a plan and stick with it.  There could be a hundred things I needed to put on my own list, but a roster so lengthy could’ve proved to be too intimidating and caused me to get discouraged in no time at all.  Thus, at least at the outset, it was wisest to focus on the areas of my Christianity I know I’m weakest in.  Being the kind of person who often craves physical satisfaction and who also tends to become bored easily it only made sense that abstinence should be a priority in my plan.  Under that heading I penciled in a need for solitude and silence.  I must go where I’m left completely alone for a while, whereupon I turn off all the noisemakers (TV, radio, idle chit-chat, etc.) and allow silence to prevail.  Why are these two things crucial to my spiritual growth?  Simply because they were very important to my Lord Jesus Christ, that’s why.  (Being an introvert since childhood and someone who doesn’t mind being alone you’d think solitude’s something I didn’t really need to work on.  The problem was that the time spent by myself wasn’t spent contemplating God or His glory.  Oh, no.  I spent all that time pursuing selfish desires whether it was watching porn, aimlessly surfing the internet or sedating myself with drugs and alcohol.  So what I needed to work on in my plan was to figure out how to maximize the beneficial aspects of solitude by using that time in a spiritually productive way.)

 

Willard wrote, “One of the greatest of spiritual attainments is the capacity to do nothing” and the Christian philosopher Pascal once remarked, “I’ve discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they’re unable to stay quietly in their own room.”  The very folks who complain they never hear anything from God are usually the ones who refuse to sit still for more than a minute.  The Father in heaven won’t make time for those who won’t make time for Him.  Others gripe they can’t stop their brains from letting one thought after another rumble into and through their consciousness like boxcars on a train track.  But that’s what thoughts do!  What we’re to make a concentrated effort to accomplish via silence is to mentally force our “thought parade” to grind to a halt for a while.  Now, I’m not advocating putting oneself into some sort of “altered state” via kundalini yoga or breathing techniques.  Both have their place but nowhere in the Gospel accounts are we told Jesus assumed a certain position or chanted or anything like that when He stepped away from His disciples to indulge in a few minutes of prayer-filled serenity.  On the contrary, He’d disciplined Himself to be able to find solitude and silence whenever He felt it advantageous for carrying out God’s will.  You and I should do the same.

 

Another priority in my plan was to start engaging in enlightening study and worship activities.  By that I mean I needed to make it my obsession to accumulate and learn as much knowledge about Jesus Christ as possible.  Face it; the majority of people are, to some extent, obsessed with something or somebody.  For some it’s a football team.  For some it’s politics.  For some it’s a branch of science.  But a Christ disciple should ultimately be fascinated foremost with Jesus and what He taught us over everything else.  It’s a matter of continually directing our thoughts down constructive roads.  Paul’s advice still holds lots of water: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things(Philippians 4:8).  Christians should keep in mind it’s implied many times in the Scriptures that the more of ourselves we give to God the more He gives to us.  Jesus Himself said of the sheep in the flock He tenderly shepherds, “…I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly (John 10:10).  I realize that few verses have been as misconstrued as that one but the bottom line is God will provide for His children.  My plan included reading my Bible every day, attending Bible classes at church, listening to gifted preachers on TV and reading the books of great Christian writers whom God is using to inspire and educate those like me who “yearn to learn.”  What I discovered was that I still had ample time to enjoy the things and people I’d always enjoyed before.  God doesn’t limit our horizon when we make Him #1 (as one would guess), He expands it exponentially.  Amazing.  It’s miraculous to behold.

 

As far as worship goes, I found by devoting more of my energy towards studying and absorbing the priceless treasures that awaited me in God’s Word the easier and more effortlessly wholehearted praise for God came gushing out.  For most of my life I’d never been one to openly demonstrate any kind of emotion (for fear of being made fun of) so for me to sing hymns and shout out a few “amens” in Sunday morning church services or during Celebrate Recovery meetings is not something I ever expected.  Yet the majestic greatness of God that’s been revealed to me over and over again during these last eight years of my “new life” draws worship out of me spontaneously, without my even giving it a thought beforehand.  I’m a huge fan of author Fredrick Buechner and the keen sense of humor he often presents with his tongue firmly imbedded in his cheek.  Regarding the subject of worship he wrote, “Phrases like Worship Service or Service of Worship are tautologies.  To worship god means to serve Him.  Basically there are two ways to do it.  One way is to do things for Him that He needs to have done – run errands for Him, carry messages for Him, fight on His side, feed His lambs, and so on.  The other way is to do things for Him that you need to do – sing songs for Him, create beautiful things for Him, give things up for Him, tell Him what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in Him and make a fool of yourself for Him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.  A Quaker meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening – unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful.”

 

Clearing out some space in my life for God-centered solitude, silence, study and worship made a significant difference in my growth and maturity as a Christ-follower.  But those things would still be dormant if I hadn’t put them in my plan.  No doubt you’ll put other areas of deficiency ahead of the ones I listed for myself.  That’s okay.  The main thing is that you’re going to work with the Holy Spirit living inside you, not sit back and wait for Him to do it all.  (Doing it that way could take an eternity.)  As Willard wrote, “The important insight to guide us at this point is that to build our house upon the rock, putting off the old person and putting on the new, we must have a definite plan for doing so.”  In my own experience, after years of trudging through countless up and down cycles trying to stay faithful to my disciplines, at some point I realized my plan had turned into my pattern.  My starting every day with a cup of coffee and an open Bible began to pay off in that God’s Word influenced every thought and act that followed.  My involvement with my church family and the Celebrate Recovery ministry was finally affecting my attitude towards others.  The works I read by great Christian writers helped me understand Scriptural concepts I was having a hard time wrapping my head around.  Mainly, there was a lot more room for Christ in my life and a lot less room for me and my self-gratifying habits.  I know for certain I’m not the frustrated, unhappy man I was eight years ago.  The difference is Jesus.

 

Christian disciplines can only be achieved by willfully obeying what Paul urged us all to do concerning what he termed “presenting your bodies as living sacrifices” in the opening verses of Romans 12.  We must go “all in”, as it were.  William Law wrote, “If you’ll stop and ask yourself why you’re not as [holy] as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you it’s neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it… This doctrine does not suppose we have no need of divine grace, or that it’s in our own power to make ourselves perfect.  It only supposes that through the [lack] of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions, we fall into such irregularities of life, as by the ordinary means of grace, we should have power to avoid.”   Jerry Bridges got real when he wrote: “God wants us to train ourselves in the right direction… to make the right choices.  This is where the going gets tough.  We’ll agree with the teaching of Scripture about some particular sin and even [commit] to put it out of our lives.  But then the temptation to indulge that sin comes again and we’re unwilling to say no… to make those tough choices.  We’d like to be rid of that sin, and even pray to God to take it away, but are we willing to say no to it?”  That’s the question, is it not?  Yep, we need a plan.

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Why Do We Do What We Shouldn’t?

This’ll probably come as no shock but, despite my intent to be a Christ disciple, I still sin.  I don’t want to, but I do.  The influence my long-established patterns of rebellion and selfishness I allowed to exert immense power over me has proven extremely hard to overcome.  I’m constantly tempted by the lures of this fallen world that so despises the Creator who made it.  Jesus has helped me tremendously to be more like Him but if I said sinful thoughts never enter my mind I’d be lying through my teeth.  One of the many great things about Celebrate Recovery is that it helps folks like me expose our destructive behavior routines and offers a systematic way of heading them off at the pass before they come galloping in like a band of outlaws hell-bent on shooting up the town.  If you’ve studied your Bible at all you’re probably familiar with what Paul, perhaps the most respected disciple of Christ ever, wrote about his own battle with iniquity.

 

For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin.  For I don’t understand what I am doing.  For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate.  But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good.  But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I want to do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.  So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me.  For I delight in the law of God in my inner being.  But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Romans 8:15-25).  Wow!  Any notion Paul was a conceited, holier-than-thou egomaniac goes flying out the window in that revealing passage.  Now, if Paul had let that statement stand alone without clarification we’d be tempted to think the apostle was the devil’s puppet, doing bad things all the time.

 

But that’s not the case.  Earlier, he made it known sins aren’t something we have to commit.  He wrote, Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for true unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used as righteousness.  For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).  Too many Christians consider sin no more than a gnat in the stew but they vastly underestimate its power to poison the soul of the offender.  Simply being “saved” doesn’t keep one from sinning as much as they ever did before.  They’re still captive to the law of sin, enslaved by fear, greed, impatience, narcissism and sexual lust because they have yet to surrender their entire life to Christ and the kingdom of God.

 

On the other hand, there are many who think of Satan as a genuine god who can force us to sin.  Back in the early 70s there was a popular comedian named Flip Wilson.  One of his characters was a woman named Geraldine Jones who’d claim when she got caught doing something wrong, “The devil made me do it!”  The reason so many found it hilarious was because it’s an excuse all of us are tempted to use when caught red-handed.  We want to pretend there’s an invincible, overpowering cosmic force that compels us to do what we shouldn’t.  But that’s not true.  It’s a cop out.  Dallas Willard wrote, “…If we think we’re facing an irresistible cosmic force of evil, it’ll invariably lead to giving in and giving up – usually with very little resistance.  If you can convince yourself that you’re helpless, you can then stop struggling and just ‘let it happen.’”  Nothing’s worse than resignation.  Satan is an angel but he ain’t all-powerful.  God’s got him on a leash and he can’t do anything God doesn’t allow him to do.  So blaming the devil is lame.  The real culprit is the person we see in the mirror.  If we reflect on any of our sins or trespasses we usually see we committed the deed because we acted without thinking.  We did it impulsively, entirely out of habit.  Then we end up having to deal with what we’ve already done, which leads to our relying on self-defense mechanisms like denial, outright lying and making petty rationalizations.  That’s why identifying destructive behavior patterns is such an important part of the CR curriculum.  Only then can a person begin the process of replacing them with the kind of responses a Christ disciple would choose.

 

If we rule out Satan then the only other “outside” entity to blame for our sin is God.  But the Bible is specific about that not being an option.  Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires.  Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).  Face it; we’re all creatures of habit.  We drive our cars mostly by rote.  We trod the grocery aisle without having to deliberately put one foot in front of the other.  Sadly, we have a sin nature that has a routine of its own, too.  Once again, though, it’s Jesus who showed us how to deal with temptation.  In the upper room He told His disciples He’d soon have no time to talk with them.  He knew the ruler of this world was on his way to attempt to thwart God’s will.  The devil threw everything plus the kitchen sink at Christ, trying to get Him to abandon His faith in His Heavenly Father.  The attack was so severe mentally that Jesus almost died of anguish in Gethsemane.  But our Lord had assured the disciples earlier that He [Satan] has no power over me, but I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father (John 14:30-31).

 

Willard nailed it with this poignant statement: “This is the true situation: nothing has power to tempt me or move me to wrong action that I have not given power by what I permit to be in me.  And the most spiritually dangerous things in me are the little habits of thought, feeling, and action that I regard as ‘normal’ because ‘everyone is like that’ and it’s ‘only human.’”  He’s describing yours truly right there.  Thus, by his reckoning, Christ-like behavior is not “normal” behavior in any sense of the word.  That’s what our Master was implying when He said, “…If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34-35).  We Christians must daily straddle the fine line between being in the world and being of the world.  No easy task.  But that’s why ministries like Celebrate Recovery are so helpful to those who want to be Christ disciples.  The power of habit can be broken.  Compulsive, dysfunctional behaviors can be changed.  And you don’t do it alone.  God and those He’s already healing take the journey with you.  Now, having said that, nobody’s been able to recover from their hurts, hang-ups or habits without first making the critical decision to do whatever it takes to change.  No one ever got “healed” just by showing up.

 

One of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament is found in Ephesians 2:2-10.  Paul wrote, And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…  But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God: it is not from works, so that no one can boast.  For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”  There are many things to glean from those verses but one thing that sticks out to me is that the changes in our thought processes, emotional responses and knee-jerk reactions will not be done for us, nor are they something we can do by ourselves.  Jesus said “…apart from me you can accomplish nothing (John 15:5) so it only goes to figure that if we do nothing at all it’ll certainly be without Him.  In other words, without Christ we’ll be stuck with our sinful selves forevermore.

 

The bottom line is that whatever program or ministry outreach we go to to help us “get transformed” isn’t going to be successful unless we come to grips with the fact it’s going to be hard.  We have to make a full commitment to act wisely and consistently over a long period of time – most likely the rest of our earthly life.  And we’ll be looked upon by others as being one of those people who seem to take some kind of perverse joy through serving others in a humble manner.  They won’t understand the kind of person you’re turning into, especially if they knew you before you met Christ.  Paul tells us to not be bothered by what others may think.  His recommendations are priceless: So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine like lights in the world by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.  But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you.  And in the same way you also should be glad and rejoice together with me (Philippians 2:12-18).

 

Notice that in the Scriptures I cited from Ephesians 2 Paul is reassuring us we’ve received, as a free gift, the life of the kingdom through the word of the gospel and the person of Jesus.  We did nothing to deserve such a generous and, frankly, costly present being given to us.  Yet now that we’ve been granted forgiveness, mercy and redemption we have something major to do.  Yes, we do have the awesome Holy Spirit living inside us and the Holy Word to guide us but we must now reach out and connect with other children of God who want the same thing.  We can’t do it alone.  It’s too big a job!  Paul wrote, Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.  Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

 

Becoming a strict legalist won’t do the job, either.  James S. Stewart wrote: “The soul of man, setting out gallantly enough on the crusade to conquer besetting sin and weakness and to establish personal righteousness, has found the road too hard and the foes too stubborn; and gallantry has given way to disillusionment, and aspiration to a sense of downright futility.  No man can save himself: this was Paul’s great discovery.  A drowning man does not want a lecture on the art of swimming: he wants a rope to cling to.  Nor does a lame man ask for a guidepost to point him out the way: he asks for an arm to lean upon.  But the very weariness of those unavailing efforts to achieve its own salvation may prepare the soul of man to hear the cry, ‘Stand still, and see the salvation of God’” (Exodus 14:13).

 

In his superb best-selling book, Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb presents three specific ideas about how an individual, with God’s help, can change.  He wrote, “First, awareness of all that’s within us is more important to changing than a set of instructions about what to believe and do.  Second, the actual process of change can never be fully explained; the work of God’s Spirit cannot be packaged into our neat categories.  We must expect neither precision in our understanding of change nor confidence that we’re saying all that needs to be said.  Third, no one is fully changed.  It should comfort us to know that everyone has ample room to grow.  Even Paul admitted, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it (Philippians 3:13), referring to the richness of all Christ has provided.”  We can all become better at following Jesus.

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What Are We Making?

One of the last things Jesus told His followers to do was Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…(Matthew 28:19.  Seems like a pretty straightforward directive, right?  Yet seldom do I get the feeling “making disciples” is of supreme importance among Christians or designated a lofty priority in our Savior’s churches.  I just don’t hear much about it.  It’s surely not that we don’t want others to find, accept, embrace and then enjoy the freedom and hope we’ve found by becoming followers of the Lord.  We look at the world’s massive problems and conflicts and feel sorry for those who don’t know that having Christ in one’s heart is the only antidote for despair and depression.  We long for everyone to surrender their life to Jesus and thereby discover the peace and assurance He provides.  So it’s not that we don’t want to “make disciples”.  It’s that we don’t know how.  Since that’s the case I reckon we should spend more time educating and training ourselves in that area of our faith.

 

Logic tells us we must first be disciples of Christ ourselves in order to be effective at turning others into the same.  In previous essays I defined what one is and how best to become one.  I stressed a person doesn’t have to have a Masters in theology to be a disciple, only an overwhelming yearning to spend the rest of their life apprenticing under the guidance of Jesus.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus.  God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world.”  Remember, God makes disciples, not human institutions.  Our job is to help and assist Him in any way we can.  We learn the craft of “disciple making” via imitating and utilizing the methods Christ employed to raise up His disciples.  The most obvious tact He used was proclaiming, manifesting and teaching them about the kingdom of God.  He brought it up frequently.  We should do likewise.  When Jesus spoke about it He made the kingdom out to be the most incredible, desirable place and state of mind to exist in.  But how often do we tell non-believers about the wonders of God’s Kingdom?  Or, for that matter, discipleship in general?  And when’s the last time you heard a sermon preached on those subjects?  Dallas Willard opined, “…with the disappearance of Jesus as teacher – replaced by the mere sacrificial Lamb or else the prophet of social and personal ‘liberation’ – the prospects for the making of disciples to Him become very dim indeed.  You cannot have students if you have no teacher.”  In accentuating the glorious advantages of being a citizen of the magnificent Kingdom of God, Christ was offering an alluring incentive for men and women to become disciples.  It seems apparent to me that somewhere along the way the church got distracted and ceased doing foremost what our Lord commanded before He ascended from the Mount of Olives.

 

Has Christianity mistakenly focused its energies on making converts instead of disciples?  I only have to look at myself to answer that question.  When and if I’m asked I normally describe myself as a Christian but not necessarily as a disciple of Jesus.  I was brought up in church and knew all about the disciples.  So at what juncture in my life did I stop striving to be a dedicated student of Christ, constantly stretching my intellect to expand my understanding of and usefulness to my Savior and settle for just being one of the “saved”?  If I’m being totally honest it happened early on, right after I turned 18.  I’m not implying that if I’d met my death at some point afterwards I wouldn’t have awakened in the heavenly realm.  I know for certain my name got written down in the Book of Life with indelible ink because when it comes to forgiveness, our Heavenly Father’s is inexhaustible.  Yet I have no doubt He’ll inquire of me one fine day why I waited so late in life to become a Christ disciple and I won’t have an acceptable excuse to give Him.  It’s reasonable to think discipleship was important to Jesus because it prepares God’s children for what heaven will actually be like.  Had I kicked the bucket even 10 years ago would I have been ready to devote all my love and fealty to Christ?  Sadly, no.  I was satisfied to be a believer, not a disciple, and I don’t think by merely entering the Pearly Gates I would’ve instantly been able to forget myself and worship the King of kings in the manner He deserves.  Having never confronted and worked on my many character defects, it’s probable I would’ve had no clue whatsoever what to do or how to act in His presence.  Finally deciding to become a disciple of Jesus was the wisest choice I’ve ever made – bar none.

 

Therefore, if I’m reading Matthew 28:19 correctly, as a disciple of Jesus it’s imperative I make it my primary mission to make more disciples.  Instead of trying so hard to be “a good man that everyone likes to hang with” I should be more focused on introducing others to the greatest person I’ve ever met – Jesus Christ.  If folks can see that He means everything to me and that I’m happy with that fact, then chances are favorable they’ll want what I found in Christ for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  That’s an extremely tough row to hoe for life in the “real world” will make it that way.  With his tongue firmly in cheek Henri Nouwen wrote: “We simply go along with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that’ve been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord.  People must be motivated to come to church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised, and above all everyone must be happy.  Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life.”  Little wonder the modern church is guilty of paying such scant attention to facilitating the divine mandate to “make disciples”.

 

Could it be that 21st century Christians fear what would happen if we started concentrating on seeing an increase in the number of Christ disciples over gaining a new influx of “church members”?  I heard T.D. Jakes once preach, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good.  He came to bring dead people back to life!”  In today’s PC culture most non-believers will take being called “dead in sin” an uncalled for indictment of their lifestyle but the body of Christ must be bold enough to warn them of the eternal consequences that stem from ignoring Jesus’ atoning blood sacrifice.  Courageous disciples, following the lead of the likes of Paul and Peter, will not be afraid to speak the truth in love.  But disciples won’t just appear out of thin air.  They must be cultivated and nurtured over time by the church itself.  As Willard wrote, “We should intend to make disciples and let converts ‘happen,’ rather than intending to make converts and letting ‘disciples’ happen.”  What a major shift in direction and emphasis that would be!

 

It’s worth noting Jesus didn’t imply there’d be anything easy about “making disciples.”  Needless to say, it’s getting harder and harder to do.  Today’s “information society” has no need for Christ or the Kingdom of God He promoted.  Intentionally or otherwise, the mainstream media has systematically eradicated any and all spiritual concerns from their secularist agenda.  To mislabel what they do a conspiracy is to invite unhelpful paranoia into the issue when what’s really behind it is way more powerful – a somewhat nebulous “authority” that stakes its claim of being truth-holders in what it firmly considers to be rock-solid, science-based knowledge and wisdom.  For instance, I recently came across a show on The Science Channel called “Space’s Deepest Secrets.”  I’ve always been fascinated with stuff having to do with astronomy so I gave the program a gander.  This particular episode was entitled “The Curse of Dark Matter” and it featured a plethora of cool graphics as well as interviews with a number of really smart men and women, most with “Dr.” or “Prof.” in front of their names.  It was all very “up to date.”  The bottom line, however, turned out to be the unavoidable truth that mankind still doesn’t know diddly about how the universe keeps from flying apart, much less how it came into existence at all.  All kinds of theories and conjectures abound but not once during the show did any of the brainiacs venture to surmise God Almighty has anything to do with overseeing and controlling the incredible forces and energies that surround us.  I got the impression that for any of the experts to make even the slightest reference to an omniscient, cosmic Creator/Administrator would be to commit scientific blasphemy.  They dare not mention the elephant in the room.  This is what the Christian community is up against and it’s a formidable adversary, indeed.

 

In other words, if a person grows up being taught in school that the very concept of there being a God is foolishness we Christians have a lot of swift rivers to cross to reach them.  As Willard wrote, “…in any case the point here is not so much about which beliefs must be challenged and changed as it is that to enable people to become disciples we must change whatever it is in their actual belief system that bars confidence in Jesus as Master of the Universe.”  If there’s a flaw in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I’ve been heavily involved in for over 8 years now it’s that we tend to put too much emphasis on getting people to stop doing destructive things to themselves or others and not doing enough to change their fundamental beliefs.  It’s a tricky proposition, though.  Most of the folks that come crawling into their first meeting are desperate to find out if there’s any hope left for them.  Many have never stepped foot inside a church except to attend funerals or weddings so the last thing they want to hear about is discipleship.  At the same time they’re very open to receiving some “Good News” and that’s where the Christ disciples in the room have an opportunity to reveal to them the healing, loving, merciful Jesus that perhaps they’ve never heard about.  If they feel welcome and not judged odds are they’ll come back for more genuine encouragement and, over time, they might come to realize it’s their own misguided belief about what it’s like to be a follower of Christ that’s been the biggest obstacle to finding purpose and fulfillment in their life.  Look, what we believe true about ourselves determines not only our personality and countenance but the whole of our outlook on life.  Back in the 90s I was able to pull myself out of the miserable throes of self-loathing simply by standing in front of a mirror every day and feeding my reflection positive attributes.  I found out I was what I believed I was.  It was all in my head!

 

More often than not it’s the ones who profess to be Christians who are most confused about what they believe.  If they get comfortable with coming to Celebrate Recovery and sharing in the small group gatherings they might take the next step and go through the soul-searching Step Study program.  That’s where they’ll be asked about what they believe in regards to God, repentance, the Bible, salvation, etc. – perhaps for the first time in their lives.  It’s not uncommon that many realize a lot of their core beliefs were based solely on what their peer group believed and that, in the final analysis, they didn’t truly believe what they thought they believed after all!  To avoid them becoming discouraged over what they’ll then be tempted to deem their “anemic faith” the course leaders will gently direct them into God’s Holy Word to obtain the necessary corrections.  The astonishing thing is all that was required to get them back on track was to ask them to express what they believed!  The sheer absurdity of their false assumptions about who Jesus is and what He wants us to do for Him while we’re here on earth suddenly become crystal clear in their minds without anybody having to tell them they were wrong.  This is frequently the breakthrough they’d been waiting for all their lives and they go on to discover the power of prayer, the joy of fellowship with other Christians, the enormous benefits derived from diligent Bible study, etc.  And down the line, due to the patient leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they might decide to become a disciple of Christ.

 

What all Christians must remember is that when Jesus told us to “make disciples” it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command.  That means it’s not up for discussion.  He said, You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:14).  And we’re not to think we’re doing our Savior any favors.  Jesus said, So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty’ (Luke 17:10).  We who’ve been rescued from the tyranny of our own sinful nature have an obligation to meet whether we like it or not.  James S. Stewart wrote, “It is emphatically not an open question.  The great command settled it once for all.  And the man who still debates and argues it is daring to correct Jesus Christ.  That wrecks his position.  The Master’s ruling has been given, and He means it to be obeyed.”

 

Whether or not the church alters its overriding drive towards making Christianity more palatable and/or compatible with modern mores and ethics and returns to concentrating its efforts on doing what Jesus commanded – making disciples of all nations – isn’t something I can predict.  One thing I do know is that God’s perfect will is going to get done regardless.  Willard said it best: “The purposes of God in human history will eventually be realized, of course.  His divine conspiracy will not be defeated.  But multiple millions of individual human beings will live a futile and failing existence that God never intended.”  How sad and sobering that last statement is!  Makes me cognizant of how much “disciplining work” is left to be done by me and the body of Christ I’m grateful to be part of.

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How Much Does Discipleship Cost?

Salvation, due to God’s amazing grace, is free of charge.  Discipleship, however, can be expensive.  Thus a believer who decides to apprentice under the tutelage of Christ would be wise to examine the price tag before making a commitment.  Jesus didn’t conceal the fact the cost is steep.  At one point in His ministry He’d attracted a sizeable audience that followed Him around.  No doubt many of the folks tagged along because they’d heard about Him picking up the lunch tab for 5,000 and wanted to be around when and if it happened again.  Gratis feedings were as popular then as they are now.  Our Savior knew when it was time to thin the herd and exactly how to do it.  Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:25-27).  I figure at the mere mention of crucifixion hundreds backed away and headed home.  Public execution wasn’t part of what they thought they were signing up for.

 

Jesus continued to preach to those who stuck around: For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him.  They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’  Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace.  In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions (14:28-33).  Needless to say, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and confusion regarding why Christ chose to use the shocking word hate.  God doesn’t desire that His children hate anything other than sin.  Keep in mind Jesus often employed over-the-top exaggerations to snag people’s attention (a camel passing through the eye of a needle, planks of wood sticking out of one’s eye socket, etc.) and that’s the case here.  Dallas Willard wrote, “The entire point of this passage is that as long as one thinks anything may really be more valuable than fellowship with Jesus in His kingdom, one cannot learn from Him.”  Use common sense.  Our Lord didn’t hate His mother and He wasn’t advocating we hate ours, either.  Context is always essential to acquiring full understanding.

 

Yet this raises a legitimate question.  Who in their right mind would willingly accept an often thankless job that demands everything from them?  What’s the upside of taking on such an all-consuming, lifelong task like that?  Obviously a man or woman would have to be so enamored and impressed with Christ’s merciful majesty that no warnings or scare tactics could dissuade them from enlisting in His army of servants.  Jesus described what that profound infatuation is like using two relatable illustrations.  He taught that The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid.  Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it (Matthew 13:44-46).  Frederick Buechner, in discussing these twin tales, remarked: “Almost always when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of Heaven, there is this note of surprise: it’s so much more wonderful than anyone could have dared hope, so much more within reach than anyone could have dreamed.  And there’s the sense too that once we’ve glimpsed this kingdom, tasted this life, we understand that nothing else matters – that all other pearls, next to this one, were only pearls, that every field we ever walked before was only weariness.”  Now, if you have no clue whatsoever what our Lord and Savior was getting at in these vignettes; if you’ve not encountered something or someone so mind-blowingly incredible, beautiful and exhilarating that you’d drop everything in a heartbeat to obtain more then perhaps discipleship isn’t for you.  Not just yet, anyway.

 

Notice that in both scenarios the cost involved didn’t matter because it was inconceivable for the buyer to pass up a bargain so enriching.  The option of not going “all in” was absurd.  It never entered their brain.  That’s the kind of motivation those who want to become a Christ disciple must own to take the plunge.  They must feel no trepidation whatsoever.  As Jesus said, “…No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).  Through faith the dedicated disciple is convinced the benefits derived from their decision vastly outweigh any and all inconveniences or hardships it may invite.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days.”  The treasure they’ve gotten a partial view of is worth risking ridicule to possess.  Now, non-Christians will tell them they’re ruining any chance they might have to succeed in the secular world.  That to be beholden to anything other than their career, their family or their financial security is sheer insanity.  They’ll roll their eyes, strongly advise that the fee for discipleship to an invisible God is simply too high and then do their level best to talk them out of it “for their own good”.  You will meet with heavy resistance, that’s certain.  But for those who can’t imagine not being a disciple of the Son of God – the most remarkable, extraordinarily unique person to ever trod terra firma – nothing will deter them.  For, as Walter Wink once said, “If Jesus had never lived; we would not have been able to invent Him.”  The impact Christ made on many of us is indelible – permanent – and we can’t fathom following anyone else.

 

It’s why Jesus preached discipleship isn’t to be entered into lightly, that we must “…sit down first and compute the cost as it were.  The early disciples knew their devotion could cost them everything but they nevertheless deemed their mission worth it.  I love what James S. Stewart wrote: “Knowing Jesus as they now knew Him; they couldn’t conceive any lower place for Him than the throne of the whole earth.  Jesus, they saw, must be Master and Lord of life.  So they dedicated themselves to the magnificent, amazing adventure that was to carry the cross in less than 300 years from the ignominy of Golgotha to the throne of the Caesars.  On the face of it, it seemed impossible that these few men, with no weapons to wield save one, the weapon of love, should make any impression on a world that had the weapon of force and was determined to use it.  It seemed impossible that they should stand up against the vested interests of materialism and secularism, the ‘principalities and powers’ of which Paul spoke, and the entrenched selfishness of the world.  When they first set out, with their unheard-of dream looking out of their eyes, the world simply laughed them to scorn.  And when in spite of laughter and scorn they kept going on, marching indomitably from town to town and land to land until they were knocking at the gates of Rome, the world began to take them seriously and tried to bar their way.  But by this time blazing fire and torturing rack and furious insult were all in vain.  The dream prevailed, and the world was at their feet.”  Oh, to be as courageous and determined as the early disciples were!

 

If we’ve carefully weighed the cost of discipleship and found it well worth going into debt over then we must investigate how to become one.  The first thing to do is to get on our knees and ask God for guidance, stamina and fortitude.  Jesus said, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).  This doesn’t mean to ask once and then sit back and wait for enlightenment to alight.  On the contrary, we should convey our yearning to be a dynamic follower of Christ several times a day for the rest of our life.  Dr. Larry Crabb wrote, “Approach Him [God] with an awareness of who He is that makes you both tremble and draw close.  Approach Him knowing you’ve got a long way to go in becoming a really good person.  Approach Him in your emptiness and desire.  And that could mean saying something as simple as, ‘I really want You.  I want lots of other things, but I want You most.’”  Timothy Keller’s thoughts also broached the subject of discipleship.  He said, “A Christian is, literally, ‘Christ’s one,’ someone who isn’t just vaguely influenced by Christian teaching, but who has switched his or her most fundamental allegiance to Jesus.  Christians understand the all-or-nothing choice that’s forced upon us by the magnitude of Jesus’ claims.  …If Jesus was not a lunatic, then our only alternative is to accept His claims and center our entire lives around Him.  The one thing we have no right to do is to respond to Him mildly.”

 

It’s vital we utilize any means available to get to know Jesus more intimately, as well.  And no source of truth about Him tops the Holy Bible.  A disciple should consult it daily.  Our Lord confirmed it when He said, If you dwell in my word, you really are my disciples.  And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).  To dwell in something means “to linger over it in thought or speech”, thereby allowing it to saturate an individual’s mind completely.  Tozer opined, “If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you.  Do not come with the notion that it’s a thing which you may push around at your convenience.  It’s more than a thing; it is a voice, a word, the very Word of the living God.”  And we mustn’t be only readers of the Scriptures but doers of what it tells us.  In the beginning this will be difficult because the old person with their hurts, habits and hang-ups will demand equal time but we must trust that Jesus will assist us in bringing the urges of the new creation to the forefront.  Willard wrote, “Where His word is, there He is.  He does not leave His words to stand alone in the world.  And His loveliness and strength will certainly be personally revealed to those who’ll simply make the effort to do what His words indicate.”

 

A Christ disciple should become familiar with various translations of the Bible in addition to the writings of gifted Christian authors who provide educational and supplemental perspectives and insights.  I try not to be judgmental but I do have a problem with believers who’ve graduated from high school yet still give as a lame excuse, “I’m not a good reader”.  There’s so much wisdom to be gained from respected writers; from C.S. Lewis to Ravi Zacharias, from Billy Graham to Brennan Manning (just to name a few out of the many I admire) and anybody can buy one of their engaging books for less than lunch at Applebee’s!  Don’t let laziness keep you from growing and maturing as a follower of Jesus.  One can’t amass too much wisdom.  J.P. Moreland said, “Wisdom is the application of knowledge gained from studying both God’s written Word and His revealed truth in creation.  If we’re going to be wise, spiritual people prepared to meet the crises of our age, we must be a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.”  There are also TV and YouTube sermons preached by servants of the Lord (like T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyers) that’ll inspire and elevate your spirits on a regular basis.  And, of course, there’s your local church that’s indispensable to your ongoing training in discipleship.  You shouldn’t just attend, you should be involved.  What I’m trying to say is this: The more of God we absorb into our life the less this crazy, mixed-up world will be able to infiltrate and corrupt our divinely-ordained purpose for taking another breath.  Discipleship is a full-time job, not a hobby.  But what I found in my own spiritual journey is the better I got to know Jesus the more I wanted to be one of His “fishers of people.”

 

But when it comes right down to it becoming a Christ disciple isn’t something that just happens to us whether we intend to be one or not.  No, it requires a sober, deliberate decision be made of our own volition.  God will indeed call us but He’ll never coerce us.  He respects our free will explicitly and will abide by the choices we make regardless of His preferences for us.  No one achieves disciple status by accident.  Becoming an adherent of our Savior has to be our #1 ambition with everything and everyone else coming in a distant second.  It can’t be kept a secret, either.  Willard wrote, “We should apprentice ourselves to Jesus in a solemn manner, and we should let those around us know that we’ve done so.”  Otherwise we’re spinning our wheels, wasting precious time pretending to be something we ain’t.  Discipleship is the biggest responsibility a saved soul can take on during this mortal phase of existence.  It’s the greatest honor a born again Christian can acquire.  It’s worth every difficulty that comes along.  As Jesus said, Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry (Matthew 11:29-30).  Face it; everybody ends up with a yoke of some kind to shoulder throughout this earthly life.  I’ve found that Christ’s is the lightest of all.  So discipleship?  Where do I sign up?

3

What’s a Christ Disciple?

One of the last things Jesus said before His ascension was “…go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) so it makes sense we define what one is.  To me it’s a person who does their daily best to pattern every aspect of their life after Christ.  It’s a man or woman who finds no cause to hide their allegiance to the King of kings because it denotes who they are; who possess an unshakable surety of what their purpose for being on earth is; who won’t let anything or anybody steal the inner joy that springs from knowing their Savior has gone to “…make a place…” for them (John 14:2) in the Heavenly Father’s magnificent mansions; who trust fully that their final exhale in this fallen realm will be followed immediately by their first inhale of paradise air.  I could go on but you get the point.  A Christ disciple is one who can’t even fathom apprenticing under anyone other than Jesus and considers the designation of “Jesus Freak” a high honor.  I reckon that makes me one, too.

 

I must mention there are some denominations that cast doubt on one’s ability to know if they’re even saved.  That’s because in the New Testament one can find multiple allusions to “the elect” and those “chosen” by God before time began.  If the subject intrigues you there are hundreds of scholarly books available that delve deeply into predestination and you’ll discover many contradicting opinions about it.  (Norman Geisler’s Chosen but Free is a fine one for starters.)  As for me I’m content to rely on what Paul and Silas told their trembling jailer: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).  Jesus didn’t endure the agony of the cross to make salvation more complicated.  But I don’t want to digress.  The aim of this essay is to define what identifies one as a disciple.  I think most will agree you can be a Christian without being a disciple.  In other words, if somebody asked me the name of one writer I’d love to be as proficient as I wouldn’t hesitate to answer.  It doesn’t mean I strive in every area of my life to imitate everything about them.  There’s a lotta folks in this world who truly believe in the Lord Jesus but they’d be the first to tell you they’re not disciples.  They’re definitely saved but far from committed.  This isn’t to imply that those of us who want with all their heart to be dedicated apprentices of Christ are superior in any way, shape or form to anyone else.  Perfection is a goal, not an attainable human condition.  Paul made it clear: For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).

 

To be a disciple of someone is to aspire to be as good at something as they are.  So what was Jesus “good at”?  Dallas Willard wrote, “The answer is found in the Gospels: He lives in the kingdom of God, and He applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it for themselves.”  As the apostle Peter explained it to the Roman centurion Cornelius: “…With respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38).  Who among us wouldn’t want to be known as someone who went around “doing good”?  I certainly wouldn’t protest having that carved on my tombstone.  So as a follower of Christ I consciously attempt to learn every day how to better live in the kingdom of God as He did.  That means whatever task I undertake during my waking hours I’ll endeavor to do it to the best of my ability like Jesus did.

 

However, being a Christ disciple is far different from learning a profession, trade or craft.  It involves a complete transformation of one’s mind and heart and it takes more than a lifetime to complete.  It’s a matter of becoming what God intended me to be, not what I set out to be when I entered adulthood long ago.  And discipleship has very little to do with “getting religious.”  Hey, the Pharisees and Sadducees who coerced Pilate into sentencing our Lord to a gruesome execution were as religious as they come.  For that matter, radical Islamic jihadists are extremely religious.  They make sure they pray to Allah five times a day and then plot to murder all the infidels they can.  What this confused planet so desperately needs is more Jesus, not more religion.  And, as followers of Christ, it’s never been about what we do as much as how we do it.  Look, our Heavenly Father wants us to be the unique individuals He created.  Thus He’s not interested in us turning ourselves into some kind of “cookie cutter Christian” indistinguishable from any other believer.  Not at all.  God gave each of us particular talents, aptitudes and personality traits that make us who we are.  We therefore have a specific function in His master plan that no one else can fulfill as well and there’s a quite a bit of dignity to be found in that fact. You’re not a fluke of nature.  You’re not a mistake.  Your life is yours to live.  But only by following the leadings of the Son of God can any of us unleash our true potential.

 

The great thing is this: the teachings of Jesus that instruct us on how to live the life God wants us to live/experience have been faithfully preserved throughout the centuries.  We have what we need.  Now it’s up to us to do what He told us to do.  Think of how different modern civilization would be if more folks adhered to what Christ laid out in His Sermon on the Mount alone!  It ain’t rocket science, either.  Jesus spoke about sinful things we either do ourselves, encounter or hear about every day – injustice and hatred, anger and contempt, lusting and coveting, rejection and mistreatment by others, etc.  He didn’t preach about lofty philosophical concepts only intellectuals could grasp, He talked about stuff we can all relate to, especially those who opt to be numbered among His disciples.  A Christ disciple sees beyond devoting most of their energy towards not doing or contemplating sinful things and more towards staying focused primarily on performing unselfish acts that benefit the most people as well as magnifying God’s glory.  They take to heart what their Savior commanded them to do to others as if it was He Himself they were ministering to.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me(Matthew 25:35-36).

 

One thing about being a disciple of Jesus is that you don’t have to necessarily go somewhere other than where you are or do something other than what you’re doing to be of valuable use to Christ.  Chances are you already have a job or a career so it’s probable you’re right where God wants you to be.  You don’t need a theology degree to make a difference.  That’s encouraging news for simple folks like me because, “…God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).  Consider it this way: you’ll likely spend at least a third (if not more) of your workweek days earning a paycheck.  True, you may not stand in a pulpit or be a church elder or a monk chanting in a monastery but you are in a position to be perhaps the only Bible your coworkers and/or associates will ever read.  Your “calling” may have little if anything to do with “religious activities” and a lot to do with reflecting God’s light onto others who don’t know how marvelous and gracious He is.  You can be an influential Christ disciple in an office cubicle just as effectively as you can teaching a Sunday school class.  Bear in mind many folks will still consider you an oddball fanatic because they won’t understand how a person can be indwelt and led by God the Holy Spirit.  That’s okay.  There are worse things to be labeled.

 

Turning our place of employment into a platform from which we can demonstrate Christian brotherly and sisterly love will take some effort and tact, to be sure.  Nobody will become intrigued to know more about Jesus if we start being the resident holier-than-thou goody two shoes, the un-appointed rule-maker of what’s to be deemed “politically correct” behavior and the final determiner of moral ethics for the whole crew.  If Jesus had given off any hint of that unpleasant vibe no one would’ve given Him a second thought, much less a moment of their time.  There’s not a trace of uppity self-righteousness in any of His teachings.  Willard opined, “A gentle but firm noncooperation with things that everyone knows to be wrong, together with a sensitive, non-officious, nonintrusive, non-obsequious service to others, should be our usual overt manner.”  That’s excellent practical advice right there.

 

To be or not to be a disciple.  That’s a choice every Christian makes.  Does one have to be a disciple to enter the Pearly Gates?  I don’t think so.  As the aforementioned verse in Acts 16 confirms, belief in Jesus is the sole requirement in order to be saved.  However, our Lord taught that there are rewards in heaven for the good we accomplish down here and Paul clarified it.  He wrote, If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward.  If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss.  He himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).  Now there are a slew of Bible experts out there who know a lot more than I do regarding what Paul was getting at but I’ll tell you what I think, anyway.  If at some point in your life you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior you automatically became an accepted member of His “herd”.  Jesus said, My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one (John 10:27-30).  It’s true that no one gains salvation through their works.  Nobody earns heaven.  We’re saved by grace.  Period.  Therefore there’ll be some in heaven who got there not because they were devoted disciples but simply because they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior while alive on earth.  But, as Paul said, they’ll be akin to someone who narrowly escaped a burning building.  Personally, I don’t want to be one who gains access to paradise on a technicality.

 

Can someone lose their salvation?  That’s another controversial subject but I have to believe that if a saved person deliberately goes out of their way to sin on a regular basis, never repents and never gives God the time of day they’re severely testing our Creator’s tolerance and that has to be dangerous.  Furthermore, if a man or woman publicly disavows/denounces their faith in Jesus and calls their conversion a sham, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be standing in their shoes come Judgment Day.  Nobody pulls a fast one on God.  He knows if we’re being sincere when we surrender our hearts to Christ or if we’re only taking out fire insurance.  It’s doubtful the thief on the cross next to our Savior ever performed a charitable deed in his whole wretched life.  Yet when he recognized Jesus as the Messiah he asked Him for mercy.  Christ responded with, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).  Obviously the thief wasn’t a disciple, only a last minute believer, but he got saved nonetheless.  Some, including a couple of my close relatives, think his was a “special case” and that all the “rules of justification” changed after the Resurrection but I have yet to find that expressed in the Scriptures.  To be sure, many things did change when Jesus walked out of His tomb but not HimJesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! (Hebrews 13:8).  Thus a heartfelt deathbed surrender to Christ’s care and forgiveness of all sins most certainly does count.

 

It’s hard for me to imagine someone becoming absolved of all penalties for their iniquitous trespasses and not wanting to demonstrate to their gracious Redeemer gratitude by doing all they can to do what He commanded.  But that’s exactly what I did for decades.  Yes, I was a selfish ingrate.  While I know there’ll be no tears in heaven I suspect I’ll have at least a few regrets about how unthankful I was for my salvation for so long.  Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 illustrates that those who wisely invest their God-given gifts to further His kingdom will be rewarded with many more gifts while those who took their gift for granted (like me) will have divine repercussions to deal with.  Needless to say, my overriding ambition nowadays is to make up for all the time I wasted pursuing my own plans instead of God’s.  Note that in the 6th chapter of Matthew, right in the middle of His famous sermon, Jesus teaches about giving, praying and fasting being evidences of one’s faithfulness to God and He ends each segment with these same words, And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”

 

Therefore it seems there’s an advantage to being the best Christ disciple we can be.  Not only do we receive blessings in the here and now due to imitating the impeccable, perfect life Jesus lived for 33 years in Israel but we’ll be very glad we did in the next phase of our immortal soul’s existence.  However, we should never make heavenly rewards the sole reason for living like Christ.  Brennan Manning wrote, “Christianity consists primarily not in what we do for God but in what God does for us – the great, wondrous things that God dreamed up and achieved for us in Christ Jesus.  When God comes streaming into our lives in the power of His Word, all He asks is that we be stunned and surprised, let our mouths hang open, and begin to breathe deeply.”

2

Who You Gonna Follow?

Face it, when we were born we didn’t know diddly squat.  Our vital functions ran on autopilot.  Our brain’s hard drive was clean but empty.  Therefore we had to be taught everything.  We learned the ropes from our parents, our siblings, various family members and eventually our peers.  Of course, by the time we turned 13 we were sure we knew all there was to know but that’s a separate essay altogether.  The toughest lesson we had to learn as adults was we didn’t know everything after all!  Truth is, we all needed intelligent, patient and experienced mentors.  People to look up to and attempt to mimic.  It’s natural we do this.  However, if the folks we choose to copy aren’t really looking out for our best interests we’ll develop a lot of bad habits, manners and attitudes.  Conversely, if we opt to follow the leadings of men or women who sincerely care for us, who desire that we grow to be wise and healthy humans we’ll be much better off in the long run.  2,000 years ago God sent us the greatest teacher in the history of mankind – Jesus Christ – but, to the detriment of society in general, too many still fail to regard Him as such.  And, sadly, that includes a lot of people who think He was just a really nice guy who said profound things.

 

The credo of today, especially in Western cultures, is to “be your own person”, one who decides for themselves the difference between what’s right and wrong.  The reason for this is we’ve been taught to think that way by folks designated by educational institutions as being smart, qualified “teachers”.  This secularist trend started in the 60s and quickly expanded.  Hordes of us on the far side of 50 bought into the “do your thing” concept lock, stock and barrel only to discover the hardest way possible that our pleasure-hungry minds are our most unreliable guides.  We eventually learned through trial and error it’s better to Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:8).  We’re often forced to admit that those we labeled “clueless old fogeys” when we were younger actually knew what they were talking about and we should’ve paid more attention to them accordingly.  Alas, that notion never entered our skulls back then and we paid the price.

 

On the other hand, many people had to come to the depressing realization that the parents they so trusted made for awful role models because they were just as confused/dysfunctional as anybody.  Thus the kiddos had to depend on their teachers and coaches for life direction.  However, most of those hard-working individuals had no aspirations to be mentors.  They were just trying to make a living, trying to hang on to their job, don’cha know!  When the admirer gets let down by the one admired they predictably turn to radical politicians, artists, songwriters, authors or any number of heralded celebrities for guidance regarding morals, integrity and, yes, even what God is like.  Those who voluntarily participate in Celebrate Recovery’s Step Study program are asked to write out a personal inventory about halfway through the course, documenting the good and not-so-good things they’ve done so far.  They also acknowledge those who taught them and who directly influenced their lifestyle.  Then they honestly evaluate the list with the help of their sponsor.  Usually they see the human beings they idolized most were nonetheless flawed individuals to one extent or another.  It’s at that point it dawns on them there’s only one person who’s deserving of their unrestrained adoration and emulation – Jesus Christ.

 

Our Lord and Savior taught His disciples explicitly how to live an exemplary life.  Those who decide to follow Him need look no further than His Sermon on the Mount for instructions.  And they need not seek elsewhere for a better leader to pattern their behavior after because no one even comes close.  Jesus is the absolute ideal.  Dallas Willard wrote, “He [Christ] is indeed the living head of the community of prayerful love across all time and space.”  In other words, if I can’t trust the one who rose from the dead, walked out of His tomb and announced, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20) who can I trust?  As one of His adoring apprentices He’s promised to provide me with all I could possibly need for the furtherance of my spiritual education and I can testify that I’ve benefited greatly from the wonderful and highly significant changes He’s made in me over the years.  By applying myself toward studying my Bible, praying every day, listening to anointed preachers, reading the books of gifted writers and getting involved in my local branch of the Body of Christ I’m more able to adhere to what Paul told the church in Colossae: “…Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

 

There’s not an authentic Christian alive who won’t confess there’s no rational reason for not doing what Jesus told us to do.  Yet we believers too frequently take the wheel and do things our way.  This no doubt frustrates our Savior no end.  He once asked the folks in the crowd who showed up to hear Him speak, Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46).  Look, Christianity isn’t just a cool club to join or a box to check under “religious affiliation” on a job application, it’s a sacred commitment to sit at Jesus’ feet and digest every word He said.  We’re to become His loyal disciples and that connotes total immersion in His teachings and character.  If you think that’s asking way too much then you should go back and re-examine this essay’s title.  Only the Son of God has all the answers you have but you gotta go “all in” to get them.  That’s what Jesus was conveying in the final part of His brilliant hillside sermon wherein He offered four pictorial contrasts to drive home His point of how one goes about gaining the kingdom of God.

 

He started by telling us not just any pathway will do.  He preached, Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).  Jesus wasn’t hiding the fact that salvation has some serious side effects.  He was always brutally honest.  Following Him faithfully will be difficult.  It could literally cost you your life.  Christ certainly didn’t have a sweet and easy time of it here on terra firma so we can’t expect following Him will be any sweeter or easier.  Willard wrote, “The narrow gate is not, as so often assumed, doctrinal correctness.  The narrow gate is obedience – and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it.  …The broad gate, by contrast, is simply doing whatever I want to.”

 

Next Jesus issued a warning about following anybody else.  Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves (Matthew 4:15).  I can guarantee that if you live long enough you’ll come across plenty of wolves costumed like sheep so Jesus wasn’t just whistlin’ “Dixie”.  He went on to suggest how His apprentices can avoid getting the wool pulled over their eyes: You will recognize them by their fruit.  Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? (7:16).   For those who still don’t “get it” He then doled out some old school common sense: In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will recognize them by their fruit (7:18-20).  In other words, if a well-groomed sheep resides in a million-dollar lakeside mansion and drives a brand new Lexus while at the same time chastising people who don’t gleefully contribute to “their cause”, that’s most likely a giveaway clue there’s a wolf hiding inside that fluffy white outfit.  Keep your eyes open, y’all.  As the Bible says repeatedly, “Don’t be deceived.”

 

Next Christ uttered a somewhat condemning comment aimed straight at the aforementioned ravenous wolves.  He said, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’  Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you.  Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ (7:21-23). In other words, just buying and wearing a team’s jersey doesn’t mean the club’s owner will know you from Adam.  In the same way, merely saying you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one, either.  You gotta be willing to walk the long walk and shoulder your own cross just like our Messiah did.

 

Jesus then finished up His astonishing discourse by answering the question that was on everyone’s lips: “Why should we follow you?”  He said to them, Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.  Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed! (7:24-27). That was it.  He didn’t come back for an encore or a Q & A session.  He’d said all that needed to be said.  Nothing had been left out.  The full plan for living a righteous life that’s pleasing to God had been laid out for all time to come.

 

It’s essential to note that to follow Jesus isn’t to follow someone who’s “left the building” for good.  He told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, If you love me, you will obey my commandments.  Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him.  But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.  I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you (John 14:15-18).  The fact of the matter is the apostles wouldn’t have stuck around after the ugly, discouraging events of Good Friday if they didn’t believe Him.  And, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, we’re told their steadfast faith was richly rewarded.  What Christ predicted happened.  He came through with the goods, becoming a palpable presence in the lives of His followers, then and now, through the work of the irrepressible Holy Spirit.  I’ll spare you the details for time’s sake, but if you don’t know how it all came about I encourage you to read it yourself.  Christians aren’t following a dead man.  They follow the very-much-alive, everlasting God who eradicated the sting of death forevermore.  He gave us a promise we can bank on.  As the fearlessly emboldened Saint Peter proclaimed to the stunned Jerusalem throng that’d gathered for the Feast of Weeks, For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself (Acts 2:39).

 

Yet we who’ve been saved, who’ve been granted full access to the kingdom of God must restrain ourselves from being smug about it.  We must have deep compassion and concern for those around us who’ve opted to stay in the dark regarding our Lord.  The fate of their eternal souls is our business.  We’re not to revel in our banquet of blessings at the expense of honoring the “great commission” we’ve been assigned to carry out.  Paul wrote, For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people (Romans 14:17-18).  If we all consistently conducted our lives in a Christ-like manner many more lost souls would notice our joy and want to know Him as we do.  And, when it comes right down to the real nitty gritty, isn’t that the ultimate goal of those who’ve surrendered their lives to following Jesus?  After all, He told us, You are the light of the world.  A city located on a hill cannot be hidden.  People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

 

So why follow Jesus to the exclusion of any other mentor?  Because love was always at the heart of His amazing Good News.  I like what Philip Yancey wrote: “On our own, would any of us come up with the notion of a God who loves and yearns to be loved?  Those raised in a Christian tradition may miss the shock of Jesus’ message, but in truth love has never been a normal way of describing what happens between human beings and their God.  Not once does the Qur’an apply the word love to God.  Aristotle stated bluntly, ‘It would be eccentric for anyone to claim that he loved Zeus’ – or that Zeus loved a human being, for that matter.  In dazzling contrast, the Christian Bible affirms, ‘God is love,’ and cites love as the main reason Jesus came to earth: ‘This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.’”  I can only tell you the best decision I ever made in my life was choosing to stop following my wicked, misdirected heart and to follow my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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