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AM I ABOUT MY FATHER’S BUSINESS?


And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” – Luke 2:49 (NKJV)


You know the story. Jesus had gone to Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary for the Passover, quite likely for His first time. When it came time to return to Nazareth, Jesus stayed behind while Joseph and Mary went a day’s journey “supposing Him to have been in the company.” At day’s end, they looked for Him but did not find Him among the relatives and friends.

Distraught, they returned to Jerusalem where they found Jesus in the temple with the rabbis there. He was asking questions – and amazing those who heard Him as He answered questions put to Him. Continue reading

Are You Driven Or Called?


He called those who were drawn to Him and avoided those who were driven and wanted to use Him. – Gordon McDonald

McDonald goes on in the next several pages to describe the “driven” person. Some of the traits he describes we might find attractive. Yet, taken together, these traits describe a person who does not have Jesus living at the core of his own being. Continue reading

SIMPLE CHURCH


Which church is the more likely to be a growing church: A church with a broad-range of programs that have appeal to all ages or a church with few programs but with a Continue reading

COMMUNION MEDITATION (24): What Will Endure?


“Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down. – Matthew 24:2

In Matthew 24, Jesus answers questions about His coming and the end of the age: when will it be and what sign will portend His coming.

The disciples asked because He said the Temple would fall.

I think they missed His point. Continue reading

Communion Meditation (20): Position or Service?


Bread and Wine

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and kneeling down, asked a favor of him. – Matthew 20:20

Just before this, Jesus had said that in Jerusalem He would be betrayed, condemned, mocked, floged and crucified. It was then that Salome came with James and John seeking a favor – that her sons have a place of preference in His kingdom.

This is man’s ambition in stark contrast to God’s giving. What bad timing! They looked for advantage over friends and associates, while the Lord was preparing them for His coming death.

They asked for position, and He spoke of drinking His cup. Blithely they said they could drink it, not knowing what that cup is. However, Kingdom greatness is not a position to be given. It is a life to be lived.

The ten were indignant when they heard of this. Jesus called them together to talk about His leadership principle that is so different from the thinking of the world of men. There, to be great you must have position. In His Kingdom, greatness is by serving others –

– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus asked James and John if they could drink His cup. Now, He asks me the same thing. At this Table, He invites me to drink the cup of the New Covenant in His blood.

As I drink, do I think of what that means? Do I realize this is not just His gift to me but is also my promise to Him? Am I prepared to follow Him in service and suffering for others?

After all, a “Covenant” has two-parties. He sealed the covenant in His blood. My part in the covenant is to follow Him. Do I mean it when I blithely drink this cup?

Or am I, like James and John, just looking for someone to give me a position of greatness?

NEXT – (21) Kingdom Fruit Bearing
PREVIOUS – (19) Rich Young Ruler: Missed Opportunity

LEADERSHIP (13) – Discipline: the Basis of Leadership


Old Fashioned Discipline

Old Fashioned Discipline

When a cadet enters a military academy, the objective is to make a leader. One develops leadership by first making a disciplined person. Only a person under discipline can effectively give discipline to another person. A parent in a rage may “discipline” a child – but such undisciplined discipline is ineffective. In fact, it is not true discipline at all, but just a destructive outburst that does no good and much harm.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DISCIPLINE

Solomon wrote, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

In a “leadership” letter to Timothy, Paul said, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). His letter to Titus also stressed the need for self-control among elders, all older men, the older women who teach younger women, and in younger men (Titus 1:7-8; 2:2, 5-6). Self-control or self-discipline is a necessary trait in a Christian leader.

The book of Proverbs associates wisdom and discipline – and is written so that one may acquire “a disciplined and prudent life” (Proverbs 1:2-3, 7). Hatred of discipline is there contrasted with the fear of the Lord.

WHAT IS DISCIPLINE?

What is discipline? At one level, we use the word to mean punishment, particularly punishment meant for character development. On a higher level, the word refers to the inner control of the disciplined person – not to external control at all. In a Christian sense we may say that a disciplined person is one whose heart and spirit are under the control of the Spirit of God (see Romans 8:5-11). That is, like the well-trained military cadet, we are “disciplined” leaders when our higher code of conduct regulates our mind-set and actions.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D. has described four tools the disciplined person uses to solve problems. He identifies these as (1) delay of gratification, (2) acceptance of responsibility, (3) dedication to truth and (4) balancing or giving up one thing to gain something else [The Road Less Travelled (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), pp. 15-77]. Though Dr. Peck approaches these as psychiatric tools, there are definite Christian applications of his analysis of discipline.

Patience

Patience is another word for “delay of gratification.” Babies demand instant gratification; the mature, disciplined person acts today for future satisfaction. This involves having the patience to seek solutions instead of turning away in despair. The patient person can endure through hardship because he looks beyond present difficulties to a future goal. Paul discounted “light and momentary trouble” in view of “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). This is what keeps us from giving up our objectives when we do not reach them immediately.

This is the missing quality in many “conflict” situations, both in the home and in the church. When things are not going very well, it is too easy to give up instead of working them out. When a marriage hits some rocky spots, you have an opportunity to grow to greater levels of intimacy – but you must work through the difficulties. When times of conflict arise in a church, many members are ready to “bail out” and find another congregation. It is, however, through such times of “struggle” that we enter into the kingdom of God. See Acts 14:22, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Patience also keeps us working when we do not achieve our goal immediately. “Rome was not built in a day” is not Scripture, but it is true. What does it mean? Simply that a worthwhile thing usually takes more than a day or two to complete. You can throw a lean-to or shanty together very quickly; it takes longer to build a solid house.

What this means in both home and church is that character and commitment both grow when we exercise the patience to get through times of questioning, difficulty and discouragement. One of the marks of increasing maturity in a child is the ability to stick to a difficult task and see it through to completion.

Responsibility

The disciplined person takes responsibility for what is under his control – namely his own actions and choices. Peck distinguishes between a neurotic, who thinks everything is his fault, and a person with a character defect, who blames everything on someone else.

The Alcoholics Anonymous prayer is appropriate here: “Lord, give me the strength to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” My college roommate, Paul Tarrence, used to say, “There are only two things you never need worry about: things you can not help (don’t worry – that doesn’t change it) and things you can help (don’t worry – do something to change it).

You do not need to bemoan the things you cannot help. When other people make choices that you decry, do not think you are responsible for those choices. If you have been the “watchman” to warn of danger and the other person went into danger anyway, do not beat yourself up. You have done what you could. Do not make yourself miserable playing the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game.

This is just another way of saying that we are not to feel guilty for someone else’s action or choice. Jesus took the guilt of the world to the cross, but he does not ask us to crucify ourselves for someone else’s guilt. Learn to distinguish between what you can and cannot help. Do something about the things you can change; forget the things you cannot change. This is a true application of discipline.

Some elders beat themselves up because of hard-hearts in the church that refuse to repent. Parents do the same over their children. While love breaks our heart when those we love refuse the way of the Lord, we do not need to think we are responsible for what they do. Jesus was sorry when the rich, young ruler walked away from Him (Mark 10:17-23). Yet, He did not run after him, nor did He blame Himself for the other man’s choice.

On the other hand, we do need to accept responsibility for what we have actually done. Shifting blame is as old as sin in the human race. When God confronted Adam with his sin, Adam blamed Eve (and even God himself for having given her to him!). Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent had no one to blame! God was not having it though. Adam and Eve each had to bear their share of the blame for what they had done (Genesis 3:11-24). So must we.

We must also accept responsibility for action that is in our power. When we can act to right a wrong but avoid the responsibility, we are responsible.

James wrote, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does it not, it is sin” (James 4:17). It is not enough to say, “How was I to know?” or “It’s not my job.” We must accept responsibility when it is in our power to act – and do something. This also is a true application of discipline.

Truth

Disciplined people do not live in a fool’s paradise. They are committed to knowing the realities that surround them and acting accordingly. We can change some aspects of our surroundings – if we recognize them and face them with purposeful action. Faith can move mountains – but not by denying the mountains are there or by refusing to take responsible, purposeful action to move the mountains. Mountains do not move themselves.

Dedication to truth is sometimes painful. It demands critical self-analysis and examination of one’s belief system. Think, for example, of Peter’s vision just before the men from Cornelius appeared at his gate (Acts 10:9-17). The suggestion that he eat unclean flesh pained Peter. His action in going to the Gentiles pained his brethren. They had to re-evaluate their belief system. Later, Peter again had to re-evaluate his actions in light of his new doctrinal acceptance of Gentiles (Galatians 2:22-26). Intellectual acceptance of Gentiles as fellow Christians and emotional acceptance of fellowship with them as brothers in Christ were two different things.

Commitment to truth is both doctrinal and practical. I must seek true doctrine, but I must also live in keeping with that truth. True principles and true actions go hand in hand; these are two sides of one coin – and the name of that coin is integrity. Without integrity, there can be no discipline. Every disciplined person is a person of integrity, truth, honor and reliability. The core values of the disciplined person accurately chart his course of action.

It is easy for us to accept tradition as truth. It is difficult to critically examine “what we have always believed” – especially when serious study of the Word of God shows some flaws in what we believe. Yet, integrity demands that we, like the men of Berea, “search the Scriptures daily to see if those things are so” (Acts 17:11). This often means that some who still hold the flawed tradition may have problems with us, just as the Jews had problems with the early Christians who accepted the Lordship of Jesus. Yet, if we really believe Jesus is Lord we must follow Him instead of our tradition.

This is what following Jesus means. He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus tied discipleship to truth. To follow Jesus is to love truth and hold Him dearly, for He said, “I am. . . the truth” (John 14:6). (See my post, What Is Truth?)

Buy the truth and do not sell it; Get wisdom, discipline and understanding. –Proverbs 23:23.

Balancing

Balancing is the element in discipline that enables us to “give up” one value for another that is greater and mutually exclusive. The disciplined person realizes he cannot eat his cake and still have it. If he wants to keep the cake, he will not eat it; if he chooses to eat it, he will not count on still having it.

This takes place when a person becomes a Christian. This is what is involved in counting the cost of discipleship, in dying to sin and living to righteousness. This lets a person evaluate the question, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

If this “balancing” of conflicting desires occurs when one becomes a Christian, it also occurs daily as we mature in Christ. We evaluate various courses of action – and choose the one that gives the greatest value.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:30ff Paul asked, “Why do we endanger ourselves every hour?” His answer is that daily danger is acceptable in view of the coming resurrection. This has greater value than present safety with no resurrection. Romans 8:13 has a similar message: Living by the flesh gives one result; living by the Spirit gives a different result. The disciplined person evaluates and “values” the results – and chooses between them according to their respective values, not according to the impulses of the moment. This, too, is a significant part of discipline.

Paul’s life as a disciple provides an excellent example of what “balancing” is all about. When he was in prison for preaching, he was able to endure the hardship of the moment because he balanced it against the greater value. The palace guards heard the gospel; others were bolder in preaching the gospel. To Paul, being in prison did not count for much beside these greater values (Philippians 1:12-14). It would literally have been harder for him to deny his Lord than to suffer martyrdom. He valued his life, but he put less worth on it than on his relationship to Jesus. Yet, he even balanced his desire to be with the Lord against the needs of his brethren. Consider this classic passage where he bares his soul in balancing various alternatives:

If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. . . . (Philippians 1:22-25).

Paul valued his life, but he put less worth on it than on his eternal relationship with Jesus.

Going back to the ongoing search for truth and accepting it even if it must replace a flawed tradition, there is need for balancing here as well. How do I hold to the new things I learn? Do I forget the fellowship and love I have with and for people who still hold the flawed tradition and demand they too reject it? Or do I deal with them gently. Do I bear with them when I can do so without violating my own conscience, or do I throw my new understandings in their face? The example of the Lord teaches me patience with others – at least as long as they are teachable. He also shows me there is a time to leave those steeped in tradition and go forward without them, if they are obstinate. Maturity and discipline will make that determination with great care and much prayer.

Think of how the principle of balance enables a mother to give up hours of sleep to comfort and care for a sick child. She cherishes the child and its comfort more than she prizes her sleep. When we see parents who neglect their children for the most trivial reasons, we cannot understand how anyone could do this. The answer, though, is that they have not learned to discipline themselves by evaluating and balancing conflicting values and desires. They have not found a good set of priorities within their own value system. They simply have not learned how to recognize the most important things and to put them first.

This is the same as people who go off half-cocked with every new discovery they make in Scripture. Yes, I need to continue to learn. I also need patience with all who have not yet had the opportunity to learn what I know. (I also need the humility to realize that it is entirely possible that what I think I know is not really true.)

DISCIPLINE AS MATURITY

These four inter-related traits will help us be self-controlled so that we in turn can lead others into the disciplined life of a disciple of Jesus. Discipline and discipleship go hand in hand. It is no accident that the first seven letters of each word are the same. For more on this, see the fifteen-part series on Discipleship on this blog.

These traits are but another way of describing maturity. The undisciplined person is like an infant and needs to grow up. Discipline lets us take the long view of life and its choices. It demands that we make choices based on realities, and that we make them based on a prioritized set of values. If all “wants” are equal, we cannot act in an objective way. If that is the case, we will constantly be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) or of passion and wisp of desire. We have all seen children who cannot make up their minds about anything. They go from this to that to the other – without sticking to anything long enough to accomplish much. This is understandable in children – but inappropriate in adults. A disciplined life will not have this kind of shifting and changing. Rather, deliberate and purposeful action will be followed that will lead to a valued goal. Leaders must have these qualities of discipline.

Patience

Responsibility

Commitment

Priorities

Without these, no leader can possibly be effective in the long term.

QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

  1. Why must a leader be self-disciplined?
  2. Is self-discipline less than or more than self-control? Explain.
  3. Why does discipline mean delaying some things to gain other things?
  4. How can I accept responsibility for my choices? Why should I do so?
  5. Why is dedication to truth and reality painful? Is it ultimately more or less painful than living with half-truths or lies? Explain.
  6. Why does discipline demand giving up some things we may want?
  7. How does the concept of discipline fit into a successful marriage?
  8. Why must a parent have discipline before he can teach discipline to his children?
  9. Can you have financial stability without discipline in the getting and spending of money? Explain.
  10. Why is it necessary to be a disciplined person to be a true follower of Jesus?

PREVIOUS – (12) Christian Leadership in the Home

ADDENDUM: More on the Family: Developing Boys Into Men Who Lead

COMMUNION MEDITATION (19) Missed Opportunity


Bread and WineJesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” – Matthew 19:21.

In Matthew 18 Jesus’ disciples came to Him wanting to know which of them was the greatest. Here in chapter 19, a young rich man came asking how to have eternal life.

Jesus first told him to obey the commandments. That is, follow the law. He was not fazed. He proudly said, “All these I have kept.” The law, though, is not enough. Rule-keeping does not bring life. The law just reveals our flaws – if we can see them.

The young man did not see his own failings. He did not see his covetousness, the lust for money, possessions, and recognition that he had in goodly measure. He said, “All these I have kept,” not knowing that he had broken the first and the last commandments at the same time. He made wealth his god – and it kept him in the bondage of sin, whose wages is death.

Jesus exposed him to himself – and to all others for all time. “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” This young man loved wealth more than he loved himself or the Lord. He walked away because he had much wealth.

He asked for some good thing to do to receive eternal life. In effect, Jesus showed him that eternal life is a free gift that costs us all we are. The Law left him empty. Surrendering to Jesus would have brought him to eternal life.

Will I give up my life to gain Eternal Life? Will I hold on to the trappings of life as I walk away from the source of all Life? Or will I throw myself at His feet and walk with Him in Life that is truly Life?

How can I say giving is “separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper”? Isn’t my giving at least part of what being in the Kingdom of Heaven is all about? How can I really remember Jesus without giving myself and my all?

NEXT – (20) Position or Service?
PREVIOUS – (18) Who Is The Greatest?

SERMON – Cross Bearing


He first met Jesus when he and others from Capernaum went down to Judea (possibly for the Feast of the Tabernacles?). John the Immerser’s preaching excited his brother and others. John was a fiery preacher, all right, & that appealed to his own no-nonsense approach to life. In fact, he had responded to John’s call to repent & be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. But he had to be practical, too, and he’d been away from his work long enough. It was time to get back home.

But where was his brother? That young scamp been away all night! Andy was so taken with John that he’d probably spent all night either listening to the prophet or rehashing his words with one of his friends. Then suddenly there he was – and before a word could be said about it being time to get going or where have you been, he almost shouted, “Come quick! We’ve found him!”

“What? Found who? What are you talking about?”

“We’ve found the Messiah! Come on! You‘ve got to see him!” And Andrew would not start for home until Simon had gone with him to see the new wonder man!

But wonder of wonders! When Andrew brought Simon to this new teacher, Jesus called him by name! And he gave him a new name – Cephas, the Rock. Simon sort of liked that. He thought of himself as being solid – but others thought he was too temperamental for a name like Cephas.

Anyway, from that moment it seemed as if Cephas’ life was intertwined with that of Jesus. Jesus would not leave him alone. Even when he went back to fishing, Jesus came along and said, “Follow me — and I will make you a fisher of men.”

And the power that Jesus displayed! Turning water into wine at that wedding feast? He’d never seen or even dreamed of seeing anything like that! And he never would forget the time Jesus was preaching by Galilee and stood in Simon’s own boat. His words were certainly different and his message seemed clear enough, though sometimes his parables were mystifying. But when he finished, he said go out where the water is deep – and catch some fish! Simon knew better because he’d fished all night and caught nothing. (That’s the way it is in fishing. Sometimes you catch ‘em – and sometimes you don’t! But, might as well humor the guy.) So what happened? One cast of the net and it was so full of fish Simon had to call for help! Boy, that really got to him! Scared him too! He cried out, “Leave me, Lord! I’m a sinful man!” But Jesus just said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch men.

Then there was the night after they’d gone out to a lonely place to get some rest. Lonely? That was a joke! Thousands of people were waiting for them when they got to shore – and of course, Jesus went to work healing and teaching until late in the day. Then Simon and the other “regulars” got Jesus aside and tried to get him to send them away – but he said, “You give them something to eat!” Andrew found some kid with a little bit of food and brought it to Jesus. He prayed over it – and started handing it to the Twelve. Simon and the others passed it on to the people – and all of the thousands of people ate and had all they wanted!

THAT got the crowd going. They wanted to make Jesus their king, and that would’ve been ok with Simon – but Jesus just didn’t seem to understand what he could do with all his power. Maybe he just figured the time wasn’t ripe yet. (He was pretty smart after all.) He sent the Twelve away in the boat – and went off alone to pray (as he did so frequently).

Anyway, while they were rowing across the lake, a big storm came up. It was late in the night – and all of a sudden, there was someone – it looked like a ghost – walking across the water! That was scary too! Until it spoke and said, “It’s me. Don’t be afraid!” Then Simon said, “If its really you, Lord, tell me to come to you on the water!” Jesus said, “Come” – and he started walking to Jesus. That lasted a few steps – until he realized where he was – out on the stormy sea away from the boat! Then fear overcame faith and he sank into the water! He cried out, “Lord, save me!” – and Jesus did.

Then one day Jesus asked the Twelve, “Who do people say I am?” They said, “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say I am?” Simon spoke first. Did all of these things he had seen Jesus do flash through his mind before he answered? I do not know. But he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Jesus blessed Simon and said that on this rock he would build his church. Then for the first time Jesus began to tell his disciples he must go to Jerusalem – and there be killed, but that he would rise again on the third day.

This was more than Simon could take. He took Jesus aside and rebuked him: “Lord, this can never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Simon and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” He had earlier said that flesh and blood had not shown Simon that Jesus was the Christ; this knowledge came from God. But now Peter has left the things of God and is thinking as Man thinks.

Then Jesus called all of the disciples and the entire crowd to him and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”  In other words, “Simon, not only are you out of order to try to talk me out of my cross, but cross bearing is so much a part of my kingdom that you cannot belong to me unless you take up your own cross, denying yourself to follow me.”

What do these familiar words mean? What did they mean for Simon Peter – and what do they mean for us? Is it possible that the familiarity of these words has bred contempt for them in our thinking? Are these words so radical in their meaning that we tend to discount them? Do we rationalize them away so that they are stripped of meaning?

Let me begin by saying that these words do not refer to accepting the normal pains and difficulties of life. Are there any diseases that Christians suffer – that are not common to others as well? In fact, as a normal thing, Christians suffer less from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” than other people do. The reason for this is that people bring much of their suffering on themselves by their own sinful lifestyle.

Someone who is obedient to God will not get drunk and smash himself up in a car wreck. Now, someone else who is drunk might hit him, but it is not as likely anyway that he will do it to himself. The same is true of many of the other misfortunes of life. Being a Christian does not exempt us from the troubles of life. But these troubles also come to those who are not Christian. Bearing these troubles is not the same as taking up our cross.

The meaning of “take up your cross” is found in the significance of the next two clauses: deny yourself and come follow me. When we understand these, we will understand take up your cross. But, these must be linked together.

It is not enough to deny yourself. You must deny yourself in order to follow Jesus. People may deny themselves for many reasons that have nothing to do with following Jesus.

Someone asked Leon Trotsky, “What is a Communist?” The reply was simple: “A Communist is a dead man walking.” What did he mean? Simply that a true, dedicated & committed Communist was one who had given up himself for his Cause.

We have seen this illustrated in our time, not with Communists, but with Radical Fundamentalist Islamic people who are willing to become human “smart bombs” that target themselves on various things: a market place in Israel or the World Trade Center towers in America. These people give up their own lives for a Cause they think is greater. They are willing to die for what they believe in – and they are even willing to kill themselves if this will advance their Cause. But, this is not taking up the cross to follow Jesus.

Why has the Cross become the symbol of Christianity? Certainly it goes to the Cross of the Savior – but it goes beyond that. His cross is important as the means of our salvation – but it is also important as an example for us in how we are to live as walking dead men. Taking up our cross is denying ourselves to follow him. In the Cross, he sets an example for us to follow – and His path is the road to Golgatha.

Consider, the matter of forgiveness. On the Cross, Jesus poured out his blood for many for the forgiveness of sins. We talk about this and remember this each Lord’s Day. In fact, this is right at the heart of the gospel message – that we are bought with the blood of the lamb. Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” This, he said, is “the gospel I preached to you.” This is the gospel they received and on which they had taken their stand –  and this is the gospel by which they (and we) have been saved and forgiven of our sins.

We understand that we have forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross. But let me help you look at forgiveness from a different perspective. Have you ever struggled to forgive someone? You see, there are two sides of forgiveness: forgiving and being forgiven. As those who are forgiven, we can appreciate the Cross of Jesus. He took up his Cross and bore it to Calvary. There he died so that we can have forgiveness of our sins.

Why did he die? Why not just forgive us and save himself all of that pain and suffering?

As those who are forgiven we are thankful that he died for us. But try to ask yourself why he had to die? Wasn’t there another way? There must not have been another way, for he prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

That was the first prayer in the Garden. He prayed that prayer for an hour! Then, after waking the three whom he had asked to keep watch with him in prayer, he went back and prayed another hour. This time he prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

Did you notice the difference in these prayers? The first time he prayed for the cup to be taken from him – and added, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” The second time what was the prayer? The second prayer was “may your will be done.” He no longer asked for the cup to be taken from him. In fact, the form of the statement in the Greek assumes that it is not possible for the cup to pass without Jesus drinking it. Thus, the second prayer is acceptance of the fact he will drink the cup – and a prayer for God’s will to be done. What does all this mean? Just that there was absolutely no other way for us to be forgiven except for Jesus to go to the Cross. Jesus wrestled with this – but he accepted God’s will and even prayed that God’s will be done.

Now, if it is true that for God to forgive us through Jesus the cross is necessary, what do you think it takes for us to be able to forgive one another?

Is it easy to forgive another? Or is it (at least some of the time) a real struggle? Have you ever had someone who had hurt you – and hurt you bad? And you knew you needed to forgive him or her – but you just could not do it! You kept reliving that hurt. You kept focusing on the pain you suffered – and still suffer. You just could not get beyond the injustice of it – and even if you didn’t want to do something yourself to hurt that person, you would still rejoice greatly if God somehow brought him low! You would see justice was served and the sin against you punished.

But, you know God wants you to forgive. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In other words, we can’t even rightfully pray for forgiveness unless we forgive. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

But you cry out, “Father, I just can’t! I can’t forgive. The hurt is too great! That person walked all over me! He is too calloused. I just can’t do it!”

How can you forgive? Listen to Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We are to forgive in the same way God forgave us in Christ. Now how did God forgive us in Christ? It was by Jesus going to the Cross.

Is he saying, then, that for us to forgive that impossible person that we also must go to the Cross – and there be crucified? That is exactly what he is saying.

We deny self, deny our “rights” – give them up voluntarily because we love the person who has offended us. We love him because God has first loved us. And because God’s love is in us, we yield our “right” to resent the wrong, to wallow in it, to demand justice, to exalt self and our hurt over all things related to this other person – we give all of that self-centeredness up. We do that just as God gave up self-centeredness when he forgave us in Christ.

We follow Jesus to the Cross – and there we die with him. We suffer in that death. It’s hard to give up selfishness to do what’s right. Grudges are sweet. Deadly, but sweet. They poison us, but they are sweet. And they are hard to give up.

Why? Because we are proud. By nursing a grudge, we feed our pride – because grudges grow in the same soil as pride and from the same root. Until we kill pride, the grudge will keep growing larger and larger. Let pride be crucified and grudges vanish in a moment. What fills them will be gone.

Does this idea of dying with Jesus at the Cross seem strange to you? It shouldn’t, if you are a Christian. That is what is at the root of becoming a Christian in the first place! If you are not a Christian it seems strange.

I remember a man I studied with and attempted to teach the gospel to while I was in New Zealand. By education, he was a Psychotherapist. As such, he had been taught to look at the human psyche in a certain way. We read Romans 6 together:

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

As he struggled to understand this, we talked about the “old self” being crucified with Jesus. I commented that this old self, the old “I” is Ego.

Ego was a word that had a special meaning to him as a psychotherapist. To him it meant the inner-core of who a person is. If there is no ego, to him, the person had nothing at all at the core of his being. For the ego to die, in his thinking, the personhood of the person was dead. He could not conceive of such a thing.

But his dilemma gave me new understanding – for as Paul also wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” My Ego is dead – but Jesus takes its place. And with Him at the inner-core of who I am, I am truly raised to walk in a new life.

So, in becoming a Christian – and in living as a Christian – taking up my cross, denying self, and following Jesus is at the root of it. My convenience, my pride, my pleasures, my interests are all crucified – so that I may let Jesus live in me.

If I refuse to die with him, he cannot live in me – and I cannot be his disciple. My crucifixion is just as essential as his crucifixion. It was not possible for the cup to pass without his suffering it. It is not possible for our cup to pass and for us to be or remain his disciple.

He told two of his disciples, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” What was true of them is true of us all. He said to all of us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Will you come after him? Then you, too, must take up your cross, drink his cup, and be baptized with his baptism. That begins as we turn from sin and, in faith, are baptized in his name. But it continues as we walk with him from then on.

Note: if you should use this sermon please come back and post a comment letting me know how you adapted it and how people received it. Thank you.

LEADERSHIP (3): Paul’s Example


Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV

Paul - Christian Leader

Paul - Christian Leader

Many credit Paul with being the greatest Christian leader except Jesus Himself. Of course, this is not the way he viewed himself. He said, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). This humility is one of the keys to his success as a leader for Christ.

Paul was always a leader, even before he became a Christian. Looking back to his life as a young Jewish Rabbi, Paul wrote, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14). There is evidence he was very close to the inner circles of the Sanhedrin, if not actually a part of it. This was amazing in view of his youth plus the fact that the Sanhedrin was primarily controlled by the Sadducees while Saul of Tarsus was a devout Pharisee.

Thus, it appears he possessed natural leadership ability. But his Christian leadership was more than natural ability. Some who have great talent are poor Christian leaders. They exalt self, not Jesus. Paul always promoted Jesus, not himself. Hence, his leadership was a demonstration of a talented man under the control of the Spirit of God.

Saul of Tarsus was an inquisitional leader. His zeal for the Pharisaic traditions led him to eagerly persecute the church that challenged those traditions. When he became a disciple of Jesus his whole attitude changed, and he demonstrated a different spirit. As a Christian leader he powerfully displayed the attitudes and priorities of Jesus. The contrast between the Jewish Saul of Tarsus and the Christian Apostle Paul vividly illustrates the difference between carnal, worldly leadership and Christ like, spiritual leadership.

What was Paul like as a leader? There are two aspects of his leadership we need to consider. First, there was his authority as an apostle of Christ. Second, there was the way he exercised his authority. When his enemies challenged his authority, he went to great lengths to establish his right to command his hearers in the name of the Lord. Yet he used this right with great gentleness.

HIS AUTHORITY

When people were in rebellion against the Lord, Paul could be a fearful and commanding figure. Think, for example, of how he rebuked Elymas, the sorcerer, in the presence of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12). Paul bluntly said to this man who opposed the preaching of Jesus, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (v. 10). He then pronounced a curse of blindness on Elymas, who began groping about for a guide. This incident contributed to the conversion of the Proconsul of the Island of Cyprus.

He also pronounced an eternal curse on anyone preaching a different gospel than that which he preached (Galatians 1:8-9). He threatened the rebellious element of the church at Corinth that, if need be, he would come to them with a heavy rod (1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 10:10-11). In these things he reminds us of Jesus when he drove the money-changers from the temple or when he pronounced his “woes” on the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 22:12-13; 23:1ff).

HIS HUMILITY

In spite, however, of Paul’s right to exercise power over the churches, the impressive thing is his extreme reluctance to use this right. He preferred to appeal rather than to command. “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you” (2 Corinthians 10:1). “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

He did not use his authority to exalt himself, but always pointed to Christ as his own master. He said, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”(2 Corinthians 4:5). His God-given authority, he said, was given “for building you up rather than pulling you down” (2 Corinthians 10:8).

In fact, “authority” played a very minor role in Paul’s leadership. He was not a commanding figure in person. His enemies said he was unimpressive and timid. He would probably have agreed with them, for he denied any of the special eloquence or wisdom usually associated with leadership. He admitted his weakness and fear, but claimed the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Rather than depend of “authority” and impressive display, Paul sought to point men to Jesus and to be an example of how to follow him.

HIS SECRET

Paul revealed his secret of leadership in Philippians 3:10-17. In this passionate text, he does not discuss his philosophy of leadership – but he demonstrates it. His purpose in these verses is to inspire the beloved Philippian church to even greater heights of service to God. He did this by exposing his own heart in the following eloquent words:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

These words reveal three great elements of Paul’s leadership.

1. His Purpose

First, he had a great purpose: to know Christ, to be like him, and to share in the power of his resurrection. No one can lead effectively unless he has a clear vision of where he is going and can establish significant priorities to get there.

Leadership which does not select worthwhile goals is not worthy of the name. It is not enough merely to have a goal. The goal must be worthy of the effort needed to reach it. Many goals are small and unworthy of God’s people. Such goals are too anemic to be able to inspire us to soar with eagles’ wings. The true leader aims at targets deserving of his best efforts – and of the best efforts of his people.

Give people a challenging goal, and they will respond. Paul had his own purposes set on something so exalted it could – and did – command a life-time of effort. We need to select objectives that excite and inspire us to our best efforts. This means the church needs to have greater purposes than to pave the parking lot. Parents need to inspire children with more than getting good grades so they can get a good job and get by in life. Our goals need to reach into eternity – and be focused on Heaven’s king.

Leaders with high aspirations for themselves are able to inspire others to seek the very best as well. This was Paul’s genius: the ability to aim high and to point us in that direction!

2. His Progress

Second, Paul did not consider that he had arrived, but was pressing on toward the goal. He avoided the trap of self-satisfaction and complacency that destroys many leaders. He was not content merely to “keep house for the Lord.” Leadership, for Paul, always involved progress toward a goal. It was not static, but dynamic. He was going somewhere!

A leader who is not going somewhere is not leading: he is vegetating. Many leaders, in name only, think their function is to maintain the status quo. In Christ, the status quo is never sufficient. There is growth to be achieved and a world to be won! These things are not realized by just holding on to present levels of accomplishment.

True leaders are the throttle, not the brakes. They do not see their function as merely “stopping” wrong or misguided action. Rather, they encourage to good works by their words and deeds. They inspire good because they love and promote good – not merely because they condemn evil. They stimulate action because they themselves are acting with purpose and enthusiasm. Even when good intentions result in misguided action, a true leader would rather provide a course correction than to bring all movement to a screeching halt. He knows you cannot lead someone who is not moving.

3. His Positive Example

Third, Paul challenged others to follow his example. In this, though, he did not point to himself as the standard. Rather, he invited others to follow him in following Christ.

This is a supreme test of a leader: Will anyone follow? This is a question that will be answered with a resounding, “Yes” – when the leader has a clear vision of where he is going and is energetic in moving toward that mark. Men of purpose and energy will always attract followers, even if they are leading the followers to destruction.

Paul demonstrated the essence of Christian leadership: focus on Jesus, move closer to him, and invite others to come along. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3). In contrast, Paul could say that his way of life agreed with what he taught everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17). Paul not only invited people to come closer to Jesus; he showed them the way.

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS

Christian leadership is not first of all a matter of authority or of doctrine. It is primarily a matter of being and doing. A Christian leader must be like Jesus and act like Jesus. Then the leader will be able to teach, not by word only but also by example. Luke summarized his account of the gospel as being “all that Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts 1:1). Such teaching and leadership will possess power because it is backed by a credible life. Both believers and unbelievers will sit up and take notice of such a life.

His leadership came from his passion for Christ – and from living true to that passion. It came more from who and what he was than from the particular things he did and how he did them. His leadership was not a “method.” It was a way of life.

This is the example of leadership Paul set and which he encourages us to follow. It is this kind of leadership that is needed in today’s families, schools, businesses and churches. Have worthy goals and a passion to reach them. Live by the things you passionately value, and others will follow. Let’s say with Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

  1. Contrast Paul’s leadership in Judaism with his leadership in Christ.
  2. Under what circumstances did Paul exercise “authority” as a Christian leader?
  3. How was example crucial to Paul’s leadership?
  4. How did Paul teach his students to lead? See 1 Timothy 4:12 & Titus 2:6-8.
  5. What key elements of Paul’s leadership are seen in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12?
  6. Why must leaders establish worthwhile priorities? How do you go about setting priorities?
  7. Why is satisfaction with the status quo the death knell for effective leadership? Someone said “status quo” is Latin for “the mess we are in.” Please comment.
  8. How can leaders inspire people to follow them? What is the difference between leading and driving? Comment on the expression, “You can’t push a string.”
  9. Why is leadership a matter of “being” before it is a matter of “doing.” Can one be a leader without being a “doer”? Can you be a Christian leader without first being a follower of Jesus?

What was the most important element in Paul’s leadership? Defend your answer.

NEXT – (4) Peter – Growing to Glory
PREVIOUS – (2) Christ, Our Glorious Leader

DISCIPLESHIP (15) – The Holy Spirit & Disciples of Jesus


Hovering Over the Waters

Hovering Over the Waters

Repent and be baptized…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38

…the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. – Acts 5:32

The circumcised believers … were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. – Acts 10:45

…God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5

…the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2

…the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature [or flesh, and so usually in the NIV] but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:4

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. Romans 8:9

…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…. Romans 8:14

…by him [the Spirit] we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15

The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:16

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us…. Romans 8:26

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body … and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:13

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we … are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

May the … fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14

After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Galatians 3:3

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Galatians 4:6

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious…. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Galatians 5:16-26

Through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:18

As you are well aware, we could add many Scriptures to the above list from the  Gospels, Acts and Epistles.

This list does not have any of the conversation of Jesus with His disciples in the upper room and on the road to the Garden where the Jews arrested Him (see John 13 – 16). In these chapters, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with them after His own departure. This would keep them from being orphaned (John 14:18) in His own absence. Thus, this was to be a close, caring relationship. There the Spirit is called The Paraclete, or Comforter. Some translations have it as the Counselor or Helper. The word comes from two words that together mean, “One called to another’s side to help or assist.” This is what the Holy Spirit is for the Christian:  He comes to our side to assist us.

What does the Spirit assist the disciple of Jesus do? (Note: a fuller listing of what the Spirit helps us do can be found here.)

Look again at the passages cited above. The Spirit helps us:

Have God’s love in our hearts.

Meet the “righteous requirements of the Law.”

“Put to death the misdeeds of the body.”

Recognize God as our Father.

Find our identity as children of God.

Pray, when we do not know how to pray (which is pretty much all of the time).

Crucify the flesh.

Bear the fruit of the Spirit. (Note: this is not our fruit; it is the fruit of the Spirit in us.

How does the Spirit do these things?

Ah, there is the rub! We do not know how He does them, but we know that He does. We know it two ways.

First, we know because God promises to us in the Scripture that the Spirit will and does do these things. If we trust the Bible, we believe confidently that the Spirit does these things.

Second, we know because we can see it happening. We see it in our own lives as we come nearer to Jesus and become more like Him. We see in it the lives of others as we see them growing in grace and knowledge. It is by the Spirit that this transformation into the likeness of the Savior takes place. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18,

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Spiritual transformation comes from the Spirit. The word translated reflect above in the NIV is rendered behold in other translations. The NIV has contemplate as a footnote. Which should it be? Behold or reflect? I like to think of it this way: a mirror reflects what it beholds. I am to be a mirror that reflects the glory of my Lord. However, I will not reflect Him unless I am beholding Him and contemplating Him, but the reflection of Jesus in me is the work of the Spirit as I behold Jesus.

The Spirit is active in holding Him up before me in Scripture, but also in the glimpses of God I see in the world around me. Of course, without knowing God through Scripture, my eyes would be dull indeed; I would not likely see God around me. But when my eyes are opened, the Spirit presents all manner of evidences of God’s activity in my life, in the lives of others, and in the world in general.

Can I prove these things are from God? Not in the way that a scientist can prove water is composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. However, to the trusting child of God these things are as plain as the nose on his face.

You may call it Providence or whatever – but we know it is from God as God, through His Spirit, works in our lives and in the world around us to accomplish His purposes. A frequent observation in the offices of Eastern European Mission (for whom I am a fund-raiser) as we contemplate the opportunities presented to us is, “It’s a God-thing.” Seeing God’s activity in the events of our lives is through the Holy Spirit in us.

One of God’s purposes is that each of us becomes a new creation, made in the likeness of His Son, Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the active agent in this transformation as He helps us to put to death the misdeeds of the body and to put on the likeness of Jesus. He helps expunge the works of the flesh from our lives and fill us with the fruit of the Spirit. He changes us from what we were. As Paul wrote in Titus 3:3-7,

At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. However, when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Notice that the Holy Spirit is involved in this from the time He begins to convict us of sin (John 16:8), as we are born again of water and Spirit, and on through life as we are transformed by that same Spirit into the express image of God’s dear Son.

Have we yet reached that exact image of Christ? No. We are still “works in progress.” However, we have the promise that “when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is” (1 John 3:2). As one song beautifully puts it, “He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be.”

While Christians argue over just how the Spirit does these things, the Spirit grieves that we resist Him and do not open ourselves more to His presence so that He can get on with the work of the new creation in us.

As God brought order out of the chaos of the primeval creation when darkness was upon the face of the deep, the Spirit of God was moving on the face of the waters. As God brings order out of the chaos of my life in its brokenness and sinfulness, it is that same Spirit moving within me and around me to transform me into what God has created me to be.

May I never resist the Spirit so that I grieve the Spirit until I quench the Spirit in a flood of His own tears!

As Richard Rodgers used to ask,

“How can one be godly without God,

or Christian without Christ,

or spiritual without the Spirit?”

If the purpose of the disciple of Jesus is to be like his Lord and Master, how can he become so without the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit of God?

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