Sunday, April 28, 2013

Not Ready Yet

Not Ready Yet
April 29, 2013
Matthew 8:21  "Another of the disciples said to him, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.'"

We like to do things on our own time, when we're ready.  Some people need a lot of preparation to be ready, to get their head in the game, able to perform.  Others actually enjoy the utter spontaneity life brings on many days.  I've noticed the Lord doesn't always give us a good deal of notice when He's about to change our lives forever (and rarely does He consult us first).  You may have your life planned out, but when the Lord gives you a call and asks something of you, you'd better be ready at a moments notice, ready to commit to the task with full fortitude.  He does not accept excuses; He won't even entertain them.  You're either all in or you're out.  I hope you're ready.

When Jesus was in the early years of His ministry, He was in the practice of calling people to follow Him.  To us, that might suggest meeting a few times a week and following His teachings.  But when Jesus called upon disciples to follow Him, it was a 24/7 deal, wherever that might lead.  The followers were expected to be by His side all day, living together as a band of brothers.  Jesus called one specific man to follow Him (to become a permanent disciple), but the man replied with an extremely legitimate excuse as to why He couldn't just join in with a wandering band of brothers.  The man told Jesus he first wanted to bury his father.

Jesus was asking the man not to return to his home at night, but rather go on permanent missionary work with Jesus.  The man however, was taking care of his aged parents.  This man (whose name remains unknown), was a Jewish teacher of the law who came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  This man understood the Jewish code that required you to take care of your elderly parents.  He was being a righteous man by honoring his parents.  It was a good thing, a noble thing to support and take care of them.  It is not known how close his father was to death, but the man told Jesus he could not go on adventures as there was no one else to look after his dependent father.  It was quite an awkward situation, since Jesus was asking the man to abandon his parents leaving no one to take care of them.

Jesus rebuked this man and said, "let the dead bury their own dead."  His statement was not suggesting the man's father had already died and was awaiting a funeral, but that his father was not a believer in Jesus like his son.  His father was dead in Christ and therefore irrelevant.  Jesus was suggesting that you're either in with Jesus or out altogether, there is no middle ground.  He was telling the man that following the work of Jesus is far more important than the other good works he had planned.  The man was not ready yet.  When the Lord asks us to do something, it really isn't a suggestion.  When He calls, we must be ready, despite not being really ready sometimes.  He gives us something to do that is far more critical to His master plan than the good things we are all ready doing, no matter how honorable the other works.

No one knows what happened with that man, if he followed Jesus or not, but I understand both sides of the story, caught between good and honorable things and still doing what the Lord asks.  He wasn't ready.  How do you balance all of it or drop everything for the Lord?  Jesus gave a clarification, a tie breaker rule, for figuring out what you are supposed to be doing when you're not ready.  He said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Certainly, we all want to be found fit for the kingdom of God.  Jesus was saying that you're either all in or your out, even if you aren't ready yet.  So when it comes to following what He asks of you, be ready to commit at a moments notice and with full fortitude, abandoning the other good works you had planned.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Jer 1:4-10, Matt 7:21, Luke 9:59-62, Luke 14:18-20

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Go Make

Go Make
April 22, 2013 
Matthew 28:19  "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

The original Jewish nation, created and ordained by the Lord, had only one growth avenue.  They were to increase in numbers by having children.  The Lord wanted their "blood" pure.  They were not to inter-mingle with other ethnicities or cultures; they were to stay separate.  In fact, they were not even suppose to marry outside their people-group.   You could only become a Jew by being born a Jew.  It wasn't a nationality or religion to which you could convert.  You were either a Jew or not a Jew.  Needless to say, they were not evangelistic with their religion.  They did not try to covert others to their religion or way of life.  This is still in effect today, by perpetuation.  I have heard a respected Rabbi declare recently that they are not active in their evangelistic efforts.  They are not in the business of see others come around to their way of thinking.

This method of growth, however, is not what the most famous Rabbi has declared.  I'm speaking of Jesus, who declared that we are now required to make disciples of other nations and people groups (this means everyone and anyone).  In fact, He told the original disciples that authority in Heaven had been granted to Him to change the age old method of growth.  Jesus gave two very specific instructions.  He first said, "go."  He then said, "make."  He told them to go and make others into believers.  He wanted the whole world to see things the way He understood them to be: that He died on the cross to save them from their sins and He wanted them to spend eternity in Heaven.  People no longer had to be born into a way of life; they could become believers by making a decision.  They could not become believers, however, if they were not aware of the opportunity.  This is why Jesus instructed to "go and make."

Notice the words of Jesus were action words.  They were specifics to be acted upon.  If you followed His instructions, you would be DOING something.  Jesus didn't say, "live your Christian life however you want and maybe people will like what they see."  He didn't say, "go and live."  No, He said, "go and make."  We are to actively work at giving others the opportunity to become believers in Jesus.  It is not easy if you are truly intent on following His instructions.  It requires effort.  Yes, the Bible does say we are to let our light shine before all mankind, making our Christianity known.  But that is not Jesus' intended method of evangelism.  He said to make disciples out of everyone.  If someone is to become a disciple, he is to become a learner of the way.  How can someone learn if someone else is not instructing, teaching?  We are all to be preachers of the Word, no matter your age, education, or experience.

You might not like this, but it is what Jesus said.  We are ALL required to spread the good news about what Jesus did for all mankind, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to become a believer in Jesus.  If your co-workers know you are a Christian, but you have not shared the message of salvation with them, then you are not following the Lord's instructions.  Living your life in a Christan manner is not good enough.  You cannot stop there.  You cannot stop until you have had the opportunity to actively share your faith with everyone and anyone you know.  They may already know OF Jesus, but have you given them the opportunity to know Him personally?  If you have not, then you are not following Jesus' instructions, His commands.

Jesus wasn't giving a suggestion; it was a command.  You are required to share your faith with others, not simply live out your Christianity in your own life.  If you were a true Christian, you would love and care enough about others to ensure they had the opportunity to experience your same faith in Jesus the Christ, to ensure they had the opportunity to make it to Heaven.  They will not make it to Heaven unless they become believers.  They cannot become believers if you don't take the opportunity to make go and disciples of them.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Ex 34:12-16, Deut 7:1-6, Ezra 9:1-2, Matt 5:16

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Three Jars of Blessing

Three Jars of Blessing
April 15, 2013
2 Kings 4:6   "'When all the jars were full, she said to her son, 'Bring me another one.'  But he replied, 'There is not a jar left.' Then the oil stopped flowing.'"

In the Bible, oil was used to describe healing and blessing.  Oil was a luxury item, expensive.  Sure, it was accessible to anyone, but in small amounts.  A large amount of oil, a full jar, would be worth a lot of money.  Remember the woman who poured a full jar of oil (with perfume in it) on the feet of Jesus; it was worth a year's wages.  If you had a few large jars of oil sitting around, you'd be considered rich.  Oil was used as a trading commodity or type of currency, too.  In short, you wanted to have oil.

In the Old Testament, there was a widow whose late husband left her with a great deal of debt, not oil.  The woman didn't enter into the debt, her late husband did.  Despite her husband being described as "from the company of the prophets," he still had foolish debt.  If she didn't pay off the debt, however, her two boys were going to be taken as slaves.  It was a dire situation forced upon her, so she inquired of the prophet Elisha to see if he would speak to the Lord on her behalf.  The prophet told her to ask for jars from her neighbors, empty jars.  He was very specific that she should ask to borrow many years, not just a few.  So she did.  Then Elisha instructed her to start pouring oil into the jars, from the small amount of oil she already had.  She did and the oil kept flowing.  She started with a small amount of oil and poured until all the jars were full.  The oil just kept flowing; it was a miracle.  She asked her son to hand her another jar to continue, but when all the jars were full, the miracle oil stopped flowing.

The prophet told her to sell the oil to pay off her husband's debts, then live off the proceeds from any oil that remained.  Wow, she had enough oil to pay off a great amount of debt and then retire off the rest.  THAT was a lot of oil.  There are a few fantastic points to glean from this story of blessing.  The widow obeyed the word of the Lord and didn't question.  She obeyed it fully even though she had no idea why she was collecting jars.  She didn't know what miracle to expect but she walked in obedience.  Had she not walked fully in obedience, and only collected three empty jars from her neighbors, she would have only ended up with three jars of blessing.  Three jars was a small amount of blessing in comparison to what the Lord did for her.  When all the jars she collected were full, the blessing stopped.  Had she a few more jars than she originally collected, she would have been able to continue pouring the oil.  She would have had even MORE blessing.

The Lord blessed her in accordance with what she could manage.  She could manage exactly enough oil to fill exactly the jars she had collected, no more and no less.  In life, the Lord certainly does want to bless us but will not give us more blessing than we can manage.  This is why many of you don't have that suitcase of money show up on your front door step.  If you had a miracle amount of money, you might not be able to manage the blessing.  If you can't manage the blessing, He isn't going to give it to you.  He is not interested in a blessing leading toward your demise.  He wants you to be blessed from the blessing, but it requires obedience.

Many of us don't have blessings from the Lord because we don't always walk in full obedience to Him, despite the clarity of the instruction.  We might listen a little, but not always fully.  I wonder if you had been instructed to borrow empty jars from your neighbors, how many would you collect?  If you didn't know what was coming, would you collect three jars or 103 jars?  I'd like to think I would collected hundreds of jars, but in reality I would probably stop at five or six.  This is true of many of us; we receive much less of the Lord's blessing than He is willing and able to give.  While you might suggest you could handle more blessing, I'd suggest you can't.  Otherwise, you'd have it.
Don't take my word for it; look it up: Deut 28:1, 2 Chron 7:14, 2 Kings 4:1-7, James 4:3

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Strike A Blow

Strike A Blow
April 8, 2013
1 Corinthians 9:27   "No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. "

Self-discipline is one of the hardest virtues to establish.  If it is developed in us as a child it is much easier as an adult to administer.  Unfortunately, many of us let ourselves go and fall into the trap of giving in to self.  Paul warns of giving in to self, suggesting it could disqualify us for Heavenly rewards, possibly even sending us to hell.  While giving in to a small, little self-indulgence may not have an immediate effect, it could set you on the wrong path.  People who overeat understand this all too well.  Giving in to a poor food choice during a moment of weakness does not make a person obese.  However, creating the habit of poor food choices and not being able to stop creates a dangerous path to early death caused by heart disease.  It takes self-discipline to eat correctly.  Likewise, if  you ask anyone with an addictive behavior, it all started with a poor choice and not showing restraint.  Soon, it becomes virtually impossible to stop and self-discipline is a wayward point.

To create self-discipline, Paul says we must strike a blow to our bodies to beat it into submission.  This analogy is akin to using a whip on a donkey to lead it where it should go.  Paul is suggesting that our bodies are as stubborn as mules and it takes a physical act to keep us on the right path.  He says we must beat our bodies and make it our slave, controlling it rather than being controlled by it or its desires.  No one likes to hear this; we want to have the freedom to do what we want.  Self-discipline however keeps us safe, not in the easy times but in the hard times.  Elsewhere in his letters, Paul says that in the later days we will become "lovers of selves . . . without self-control . . . rash . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."

While it is no surprise that people are like this, notice he says if someone is a lover of pleasure then he does not love God.  In fact, the next sentence in Scripture declares if a person is demonstrating these vices, then he has no form of godliness inside him.  Harsh as it seems, it will put a person into hell.  This is why Paul tells us to beat our bodies into submission now, saving us from a life of ungodliness.  But how do we beat our bodies into submission, demonstrating self-discipline?  Paul isn't saying we should really use a whip like with a donkey.

Jesus actually gives us a clue into what Paul was talking about.  Before Paul even became a Christian, Jesus told us what to do.  He said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."  Notice the word "discipline" has the word "disciple" in it.  Jesus said that to become a disciple a person must live by denying his flesh.  To deny means to withhold, not as a form of punishment but as a way of administering what is actually good.  It is good to show restraint by withholding even something that is harmless in an effort to demonstrate self-discipline. 

In fact, this is the way to strike a blow to the body, by withholding what it wants.  Practice doing this with something easy and harmless, like withholding from social media for one day.  Deny your flesh what it thinks it wants in an effort to bring it under submission.  Get into the habit of fasting from various things in your life to build up your self-discipline.  Fasting is lost on the modern church.  For some reason we don't think it is necessary even though it creates in us a habit of self-discipline.  Do this when it is easy and you'll be less likely to submit to something harmful for lack of self-discipline.  You may not like it, but it is far better than beating yourself like a donkey.  Or maybe that's what it will actually take.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:   Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, 1 Cor 9:24-27, 2 Tim 1:7, 2 Tim 3:1-5