• The Dash

    It’s always an adventure to see where my brain is likely to go in the early morning hours when I’d like to get back to sleep for a couple more hours. This morning it chose to ponder on death. I don’t recall exactly how it started but given that I am ever closer to that inevitability it wasn’t shocking or surprising. From wherever it began it then moved on to thinking about where I’d like to be buried when I finally do die. There is a cemetery at the end of the street where we live. It’s on a hill, extending down to the lower area nearby, next to the main street that leads into town. In the fall it is absolutely beautiful; the trees are a riot of reds, oranges and yellows. It makes for a beautiful drive or walk, peaceful and contemplative. Resting there until the Lord returns has great appeal.

    Having gone there, my brain proceeded to envision my children coming to visit our grave. I would tell them to come in the fall for the reason outlined above. Then, of course, my brain had to consider the headstone. I’d like it to be simple: just my name, date of birth and death, and the DASH. Because I remembered a poem by that name, written by Linda Ellis. If you’ve never read it, find it on the Internet and read it. It will tell you the most important mark on that headstone is that dash between the dates. It represents the entire life of that person.

    When I’m gone, I won’t be leaving much of anything behind in the way of material goods (and I suspect that my children or grandchildren won’t want too many of those). I won’t be leaving a “legacy” as the world defines it. I have no buildings named after me, I’ve never achieved fame by worldly standards, and I daresay most of the world will have never heard of me. What I hope to leave are memories, preferably good ones, for those whose path I’ve crossed in the course of my life.

    I want my family and friends to know they were loved. I want them to remember good times filled with laughter and love. I want what few possessions I leave behind to be a reminder of all of this. Most of all, I want them to remember where my faith and confidence lived, in the One who loved me so deeply He was willing to give His life to have and keep me.

    I don’t know for sure if we take our memories with us to the next life. I kind of suspect we do, especially if those we love are there with us. An eternity of being able to give praise to God and Jesus Messiah would be more than enough, but to be with our loved ones and say, “Do you remember when..” would be almost as sweet. I imagine there will be laughter in Heaven as well as we recall all those blessed times we had together. Best of all will be hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Whatever we had to endure in this life will all melt away when we hear them.

    Sadly, those who choose to reject Christ won’t experience any of that. I think that whatever memories go with them will be filled with anguish, regret, and remorse. The Bible tells of eternal torment and punishment for those who are condemned. In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (there are some who believe this is not a parable but an actual account as told by the Master). The rich man satisfied himself with all the earthly pleasures while Lazarus, covered with sores, had to beg for bread at his gate. When both died, the rich man found himself in ‘torment in Hades’, evidently in the midst of fire, as he sees Abraham far off holding Lazarus in his arms and begs him to just dip his finger in water and let a drop fall on his tongue to cool it ‘because I am in agony in this flame’. Abraham’s answer is instructive: “Son, remember that during your life you received good things and Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony” (v. 25). Jesus made it even more emphatic in Luke 6: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort. Woe to you who are full, for you will be hungry.”

    Which brings me back to the dash. It matters a great deal what your dash contains. If your dash is full of accumulating stuff and selfishly seeking your own pursuits and pleasures, someone else ends up with your stuff, and you will be dead and forgotten. But if it contains memories, acts of compassion, love for family, friends, neighbors and enemies, and most of all obedience and surrender to God and His Son Jesus Christ, your memory will live on long after you’ve moved on to an eternal reward.

    The poem ends this way:

    “So when your eulogy is being read, With your life’s actions to be rehashed, Would you be proud of the things they say, About how you spend your dash?”

    The Dash by Linda Ellis

    Don’t waste your dash.

  • Of Sheep and Sinners

    As I was preparing my sermon notes for Sunday (our minister and I swapped roles last week and this week; he’s leading the singing and I’m preaching) I was handed two gifts this morning to help me remember the awesome love God has for us. They fit well with my sermon themes. Last week was about the church’s leaders, the elders/shepherds. This week we’ll be looking at the members of the body, the sheep. In the amazing way God has of speaking to me, I had a Facebook post and a favorite Bible account come to me this morning. I don’t believe it was a coincidence they showed up at the same time; God’s timing is too incredible and perfect for that.

    A friend of mine posted this on his Facebook feed today. It fit so well with my Sunday lesson that I decided to use it. I repost it here for your consideration (for those of you who are members of the congregation, you’ll be seeing and hearing this again).

    Every once in a while, a ewe will give birth to a lamb and reject it. There are lots of reasons she may do this. If the shepherd tries to return the lamb, the mother might even kick the baby away. Once a ewe rejects one of her lambs, she will never change her mind.

    These little lambs will hang their heads so low that it looks like something is wrong with their little necks. Their spirits are broken.

    These lambs are called “bummer lambs.”

    Unless the shepherd intervenes, that little lamb will die – rejected and alone.

    Do you know what the shepherd usually does?

    The shepherd will take that rejected little lamb into their home, hand-feed it and keep it warm. They will wrap it up with blankets and hold it to their chest so the little lamb can hear their heartbeat. Once the lamb is strong enough, the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock.

    That sheep never forgets the shepherd’s love and care when their mother rejected them. When the shepherd calls for the flock, guess which sheep runs first? That sheep knows the shepherd’s voice.

    The bummer lamb isn’t loved more, it just knows intimately the one who loves it. It trusts the shepherd because it has experienced love from the shepherd.

    Many of us are bummer lambs. Rejected and broken. But Jesus is the good Shepherd. He cares for our every need and holds us close to His heart so we can hear His heartbeat.

    We may be broken but we are deeply loved by the Shepherd who will never leave us.

    ~ Author Unknown

    A little while later, I was doing my daily Bible reading, including Luke 7, which has one of my favorite accounts, the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume that washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (I wrote about her once before in my post entitled Waiting for God under Fire). I love coming back to her story, as well as others whose main characters demonstrate an incredible humility and awareness of their own unworthiness. They come to Jesus because they recognize He is who He claims to be, and He offers them a love and compassion they can find nowhere else.

    Being painfully aware of our own shortcomings and inadequacies deepens our appreciation of how amazingly overwhelming God’s love and grace really are. Christ didn’t die for us because we were such good people or even His friends. Romans 5:6-11 puts it this way:

    For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

    The woman with the jar of perfume did what she did, not because she expected anything in return, but because she recognized that Jesus was worthy of it, and she was unworthy of Him. But Jesus always desires to show compassion to the humble repentant heart. Rather than roundly condemn her (as the Pharisee who hosted the dinner was itching to do), Jesus gave her what she needed most: forgiveness of the sins which weighed her down with shame. Great faith and love bring great forgiveness, and great forgiveness inspires even greater love.

    All through the Gospels we see Jesus having a heart of compassion for the poor, the downtrodden, the ones who society overlooked or considered unworthy of normal human contact. They were the rejected ones whose spirits were broken, much like “bummer sheep”. Jesus said specifically those were the ones whom He was seeking, the unloved, the rejected, the hopeless. Not surprisingly, they were the ones who responded most readily to Him.

    All of us have been “bummer sheep” at one time or another. We’ve all experienced rejection, and in one way or another we are all broken, if for no other reason than being human and under the curse of sin. But there is a shepherd, a Good Shepherd, who will take us in and care for us, hold us to His breast and let us hear His heartbeat. If you have experienced His loving care, your response will be to run to the voice of One who loves you best. But if He saved you when your spirit was crushed, and you love Him deeply for what He has done for you, you’ll be the first sheep in line.

  • Hold Fast

    “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, by which also you are also saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”

    1 Corinthians 15:1-2

    Some time ago, I had to finally admit that my ring finger had grown too large for my wedding band. It now resides on a chain next to my heart, along with a brass coin medallion, on which are stamped the words, “HOLD FAST”. I deliberately chose it as a reminder of the need to remain faithful in all areas of my life. It is most familiar as a nautical term, which makes sense as I bought my medallion from a company named Maritime Supply.

    To ‘hold fast’ means to tighten down the lines of a ship and hold on tight because things are about to get rough. The term is attributed to Dutch origins, although I would suggest it dates back much further, as the term appears frequently throughout scripture. It conveys the idea of protecting the ship and your shipmates as a means of insuring your own survival. (For my friends and readers who have been in the Navy, Coast Guard, or have worked on ships, my apologies if I’m using the term improperly)

    For the rest of us, HOLD FAST means to hang on to your beliefs, to stand in the face of opposition, or as the formal definition reads, “continue to believe in or adhere to an idea or principle.” What’s important to determine, however, is whether the idea or principle is worth keeping. Are they going to carry you through the storms of this life? For the Christian, the Bible is a rock-solid foundation which can be trusted under any and all circumstances.

    Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, reminds them the message he preached to them is their foundation upon which they stand, and by which they are saved, if they ‘hold fast’ to it. What he is really encouraging them to do is to hold fast to the person behind the message, the One who is trustworthy, Jesus Christ, He who will never desert them. If they will hold fast to Jesus, He will hold fast to them, and no one or nothing will be able to break that grip.

    It is the same message that God proclaimed throughout both Old and New Testaments. In Deuteronomy 11:22-23, where Moses is instructing the nation of Israel, it says:

    “For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him, the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and your will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.”

    God even gives assurances to non-Israelites who would commit themselves to obeying Him in Isaiah 56:3-5:

    Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The LORD will surely separate me from His people.” Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry twig.” For thus says the LORD, “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, to them I will give in My house and within my walls a memorial, I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.”

    So, my brothers and sisters, let me encourage you to HOLD FAST. We are in the middle of a hurricane, and the world would love nothing more than to have us be blown away. Are you having financial difficulties? HOLD FAST. Are you struggling with disease, depression, addiction, or family problems? HOLD FAST. Are you overwhelmed with anxiety? HOLD FAST. Hold fast to the One who is faithful, who tells you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” The storm may seem as though it will never end, but we have a Savior who will protect us, guide us through it, and who tells us, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life (Revelation 2:10).” Don’t miss it-HOLD FAST.

  • The Temptation of Jesus

    ” Then Jesus left the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil.”

    Luke 4:1-2

    I am constantly amazed by the Scriptures. You can read the same passage for years and then one day it shows you something new. The temptation of Christ was one of my daily readings today, and I was pulled up short by a thought I’d never considered before. That, in turn, led to some additional thoughts.

    With the second temptation, Satan offers Jesus the splendor and authority of all the kingdoms of the world which he claimed had been given over to me, if only Jesus would worship him (it shows that Satan lies, even to himself). It’s often written that the temptation for Jesus was the chance to bypass the cross, which was probably true. However, it would have been a hollow, meaningless victory. What struck me this morning was this: Satan had no idea what was about to happen. He had been at war with heaven since time immemorial and was aware that God wanted to destroy and defeat him. But Satan really believed he had authority over all the earth because of sin, so he was blind to what God was about to do through the cross. Jesus understood who had the REAL authority (Matthew 28:18), sealed by His suffering, death and resurrection.

    It’s also interesting that this is the only temptation that Satan doesn’t preface with the words, “If you are the Son of God”. In the other two temptations, Satan questions whether Jesus really is who he claims to be. In those two instances, he is essentially saying, “Prove it. You claim to have status and authority; go ahead and use it for your own benefit.” But in the second temptation, Satan claims to BE the authority over the world and magnanimously offers some of it to Jesus in exchange for His recognition of Satan’s claim. It’s Satan’s modus operandi: he’ll give you a little of his power in exchange for your soul. It’s a horrible bargain, offered at a terrible price.

    The devil’s temptations are the same for everyone, in that they fall into one of three categories: the lust of the eye (the second temptation), the lust of the flesh (the first), and the pride of life (the third). Jesus didn’t argue with Satan or attempt to claim any power or authority over him. Instead, he chose to let the Scriptures refute the devil’s offers. God’s word is powerful, more than a match for the attacks of the devil if we will incorporate it into our hearts, minds, and lives.

    The most important lesson to be learned is this. When we are confronted with temptation (and if you draw breath, you will be), if you belong to Jesus Christ, He will be there standing alongside you, helping and encouraging you to overcome it. We can also take courage in the fact that He understands exactly what we are facing, because He went through the same thing. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) And finally, we need to let the word of God dwell in us richly; let it be health and life to you, and let it be your answer when you fall under the attack of temptation.

  • “Give Me Neither Poverty or Riches”

    “Two things I asked of You, Do not refuse me before I die: Keep deceptions and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.”

    Proverbs 30:7-9

    When I was a young man, I had dreams and ambitions similar to most people that age. I was locked into a mindset that told me I needed to do great things, to seek to have all the trappings of a comfortable middle class American life. Actually, it was worse than that; I was convinced I was destined to do great things. Life became frustrating when none of that materialized, and I’m sad to say my family paid much of the price for my discontent.

    My problem was I tried to have a foot in the church and in the world. I had enough faith in God to keep me out of big trouble, but I also had enough of the world to turn my eyes away from Jesus and chase after worthless things. It took God many years to finally break that grip the world had on me and show me where the true ‘abundant life’ could really be found. It wasn’t in the ‘stuff’, it wasn’t in the pursuit of my own ambitions, and it wasn’t in anything the world could offer.

    Falling prey to the seductions of the television and internet (do you hate commercials as much as I do?) leads only to discontent, anxiety (because you don’t have all the things you think you need, much less the ‘status stuff’), and misery. You are chasing shadows, because it will never be enough. None of the world’s entertainment, merchandise, or enticements can fill the need we all have, because none of it fits into the hole in our soul except for God and His Spirit.

    As I’ve grown older, and finally got tired of constantly moving from one place to another looking for my ‘destiny’, the place where I would finally make my mark, I one day took stock of all the ‘stuff’ we’d been carrying around for years. It dawned on me that most of it had not brought joy or satisfaction in years, but it still required maintenance, storage, and periodic attention when it got in the way. Getting rid of most of it by giving it away, selling a little, and simply throwing some out brought a lightness far beyond the actual weight of the stuff itself.

    I am now old (depending on who you ask). We have less ‘stuff’ than we did but I am more content and at peace than I have ever been. Though we live on a fixed income, God supplies everything we need-and I do mean everything. We have learned what it means to be thankful for blessings we once took for granted. Things like waking early to beautiful sunrises, sitting with a warm cup of coffee and watching out the window at the day starts. We live in what I would argue is one of the most beautiful places on earth, especially this time of year. The beauty of autumn here in northern Michigan takes your breath away. But winter has its own beauty as well (especially when viewed out said window with the accompanying coffee or tea). Watching the birds and the squirrels as they go about their activities. Even watching our neighbors as they walk their dogs or come and go. Being able for the two of us to just spend time together, laugh and enjoy each other’s company. Simple blessings which carry great joy, peace and contentment.

    My wife and I both have medical and physical challenges which no longer allow us to do things we once did easily, such as take long trips (even the short ones are a challenge). But we have both been to Europe; I’ve also been to South America and the Caribbean on mission trips. We have seen and done some amazing things in our lives. And now we are content with drives around town to look at the beautiful colors. Going to our favorite eatery in town once in a while is a treat. We miss not seeing our children and grandchildren very often, and there are friends we would love to visit. But we have friends here, and a loving church family, and we feel we are exactly where we belong.

    The point I’m trying to make is this: God has given, and continues to daily give us, great blessings in everyday things. He has given us neither poverty nor riches but has blessed us with not only what we need but much more than the world could offer. I don’t intend this as a criticism of those who are blessed with the world’s material goods or enjoy traveling and attending various entertainment venues. What I’m saying is your life does not need to feel lacking if you don’t have those things. If you seek God for Himself, He will pour out a great flood of blessings. The greatest blessings are small ones, but we must look for them. A grateful heart opens our spiritual eyes to see them and having seen them we begin to truly experience what Jesus spoke of as “abundant life”.

  • The Gift of God’s Reminders

    Last night was one of those nights. You know what I mean; most of you have been there as well. Sometime during the night, I found myself awake, and my brain suddenly kicked into high gear. It started rattling on about a trip we’ve been planning for the end of the year and whether we would even be able to go. From there, things moved into much harsher, darker thoughts. I finally fell back to sleep for a while and woke up with all of those thoughts still remembered.

    I usually try to begin my morning with a cup of coffee, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, and my daily Bible reading. As it turned out, today’s reading was Second Peter, and this is what I read:

    “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.”

    2 Peter 1:3-4

    It was a message I desperately needed. I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately, and it’s made me question whether I am equipped to deal with everything coming my way. God saw fit to remind me that, yes, He has equipped me with all I need, thanks to His chosen One, Jesus Christ. I may be inadequate to the task, but God’s Spirit who dwells within me is more than capable.

    God’s Word is chock-full of promises like that. If you spend time in the scriptures, you will find them. What’s even more amazing is God has a way of delivering exactly the one you need, at the just the time you need it. It’s as if He’s reminding us, “I’m still here, and I haven’t changed my mind or my promises to you.” One of my favorites is Joshua 1:9-“Be strong and courageous…the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It helps to remember that I will never be in a situation where God is not present. It does help me to be strong and courageous.

    Meet with God first thing every morning. No matter what the world is trying to throw at you, or how determined Satan is to break you, sitting down with a cup of coffee or tea and letting God speak to you through His word each morning sets the foundation for the rest of the day. Let Him surprise and delight you with His promises; it will remind you that you’re not alone in your walk today.

  • When God is Silent

    “We are focused on the right individual perspective of things; we have the vision and can say, “I know this is what God wants me to do.” But we have not yet learned to get into God’s stride. If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead.”

    Oswald Chanbers, My Utmost for His Highest

    If you’ve ever experienced a time of struggle, discouragement, or just plain confusion over the events happening in your life, you begin to understand what Chambers is saying. When God doesn’t provide immediate answers, we can sometimes grow discouraged. I find myself there right now, with two situations that have developed recently. I want guidance and I need wisdom which I lack when attempting to formulate a plan of action for either of them. But I take courage and comfort in knowing God will supply them when His time is right.

    It seems as though the most turbulent times in our lives are when God chooses to go silent. I suspect it’s partly due to our failure to listen because our worry and anxiety drown out God’s message. But I would also suggest it’s a matter of our inability or failure to understand God’s primary motive, which is to grow us into spiritual maturity and bring us into oneness with Him.

    In the devotional from which the above quote is drawn, Chambers speaks of the example of Moses. While Moses was still living in the palace, he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Israelites, and intervened, killing the man. Being aware of his own heritage, Moses determined that he was the one to deliver the Israelites from their slavery. The result was Moses ended up in the wilderness to tend sheep for forty years.

    Moses’ problem was not that he wasn’t the one to deliver his people; he wasn’t ready. God had to discipline and train him. He had to be introduced to God-I AM THAT I AM-and be disabused of the notion that he could accomplish it by his own strength and will. God uses His times of silence to discourage us from those kinds of ideas and to bring us to Himself. He then returns to again call us to the task. As a result of the putting to death of the confidence in our own strength we reply, “Who am I that I should go?” Our desire to do the task is correct, but we need to understand that it will be done in God’s strength according to His timing. We are merely the instrument He uses.

    In another place, Chambers says this: “When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible-with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.” God wants to grow us into perfect relationship with Him, so that our will is in perfect harmony with His and our obedience is given unquestioningly and lovingly. Because He loves us, there are times when He chooses not to answer our prayers in the moment, knowing He has something much better in store for us. The Christian who seeks to grow closer to God need never fear His silence.

    If you find yourself in a time when God seems to have gone silent, let me encourage you to learn the value of waiting patiently and trusting Him. Continue to praise and thank Him for His marvelous grace and blessings and trust His silence. There may be something big coming your way.

  • Follow Me

    And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

    Mark 2:14

    But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

    James 1:22

    Only he who is believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    I just started rereading Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, a work I have read several times before, although I must admit I don’t remember ever finishing it. For those not familiar with the author, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the reign of Hitler, and he eventually died in a concentration camp as a result of working with resistance forces to overthrow the Nazi government. Discipleship is a scholarly (sometime difficult to follow) but excellent text for anyone who desires to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend reading it.

    The world (and sadly, some of our churches, and by extension, us) would have us believe in what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”. It is self-applied forgiveness of sin while demanding no change in behavior or lifestyle. Cheap grace requires nothing of us; it is a ‘get out of Hell’ ticket we give ourselves. As Bonhoeffer puts it:

    “Cheap grace is the preaching of Forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

    Jesus’ call to the disciples was a simple one: “Follow me”. There was no hesitation on their part; they immediately left what they were doing and followed. Peter, James, and John left their nets; Matthew (Levi) left his tax collectors’ booth. The scriptures give no indication that any of them were previously acquainted with Jesus. They followed because of the One who called them.

    Jesus also calls us to “Follow Me”. It’s not a call to follow a set of rules or regulations, a checklist of to-dos, or a philosophical discussion. It’s a call to follow Him. A call given by the authority of the Son of God, God Incarnate. It is a call we dare not fail to answer. It’s a call to give up everything in our lives that would hinder our following Him, including ourselves.

    Bonhoeffer’s seemingly contradictory quote cited above is actually quite precise and applicable to this discussion. It must be taken and understood in its entirety. If we accept only the first half of the quote, the result is a claim to belief without evidence of repentance or contrition- ‘cheap grace’. On the other hand, acceptance of only the second half produces belief in salvation by works, and a denial of grace altogether. Both result in damnation; both represent an attitude that excludes Christ’s sacrifice altogether.

    The choice to follow Jesus means we travel the same road and come to the same destination. He knew from the very beginning His purpose was to go to the cross and die in order to defeat the power of sin and death. Jesus was born to die. He tried to teach that to His disciples, but they never understood it until after the resurrection. Such is the call that He gives to us. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” For most, it is a death to self, to all those things which would hold us to the world and draw us away from Christ. Until we are willing to suffer ‘the loss of all things’ (Philippians 3:8), we are none of Christ’s. We are not disciples because we have not followed Him.

    Ture discipleship is demanding. It’s why Jesus told his followers to ‘count the cost’, because for the disciple there is no turning back or halfway measures. The way is narrow, because we follow the only One who can lead us to the Father. It is a way of trouble and death. But if we share in Christ’s sufferings and death, we will also share in His resurrection. We have a Shepherd who has already traveled this path, and who guides us every step of the journey, to strengthen and reassure us, and to help bear the load. And that’s worth giving up everything to Follow Him.

  • Do You Know Jesus, or Just Know About Him?

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

    Consider the stories of Peter and Judas in the Gospels. Both were called by Jesus as disciples to follow him. Both spent three years traveling across the land of Israel, watching as he performed miracles, taught people, and even excoriated the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. Peter was a natural leader, sometimes brash but always self-assured. Judas was given the responsibility of carrying the funds for the group by which they would buy food and other necessities. They swore they would stand by Jesus when told that all the disciples would desert him. When the moment came, Peter denied him three times, and Judas sold him out to the Jewish leaders. Both regretted what they’d done. But Peter returned, and Judas hanged himself. What was the difference? I would suggest that while Peter knew Jesus as Friend and Lord, Judas didn’t. He only knew about him.

    I know about my wife; how tall she is (not quite as tall as she used to be), her eye color (blue), where she was born and grew up (Arkansas), how many siblings she has (two), her favorite color (purple), and so on. Those are facts that anyone who’s interested can obtain. But I also know my wife. I know what brings her joy, and what brings her tears. I know what irritates her, and what makes her happy. I know how to make her laugh (and I’m very good at it, by the way). I know her hopes, fears, and dreams, because I know her heart and mind. I know her because I’ve spent a great deal of time sharing my heart and mind with her. She is my friend, and we are very much a part of each other.

    The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about Judas, but what little glimpses we get indicate he was more interested in enriching himself than of becoming a true disciple. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a means of obtaining power and influence, seeing him as a conquering king who would throw out the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of Israel (which was a common misconception among the Jews about the Messiah). I’ve heard it suggested that one explanation for Judas’ betrayal was to force Jesus’ hand and initiate his ascension to the earthly throne. If true, it demonstrates that Judas thought he knew about Jesus, but never really knew him.

    When told by Jesus he would deny the Master three times, Peter became indignant and vigorously said he would not. Jesus also told him that Satan had demanded permission to sift Peter like wheat, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Luke tells us when Peter had voiced his third denial, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Peter remembered what Jesus had told him, and he went out and wept bitterly. His self-assured pride he would always stand by Jesus had been destroyed, and he felt the full weight of his failure.

    In spite of his shame, when Jesus came looking for him, Peter returned. His shame was still there, seen in his answers to Jesus when asked, “Peter, do you love me?” It hurt deeply because Peter had always been sure that he did, indeed, love Jesus but had still denied him three times. In John 6, when many of those following Jesus turned away and left, it was Peter who answered Jesus’ question to his twelve closest disciples, “Will you also go away?” by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Only someone who knew Jesus could have made such a statement.

    The problem with only knowing about Jesus is that mere facts cannot change our lives. Even Satan can quote scripture. There are avowed atheists who know the Bible better than most professed believers. While it’s important to know the words of the Bible, it’s absolutely essential to understand the message of the Bible. God Himself said it: “This is My Beloved Son: listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5) Jesus refers to Himself as the Living Bread; the Living Water; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Good Shepherd; the Gate; and John, in the beginning of his gospel calls him the Word. These terms are used purposely, and each gives us a picture of who Jesus is. They describe the various ways in which He affects our lives, if we seek to know him deeply and intimately.

    Christian brothers and sisters, don’t settle for a superficial relationship with the One who would be our Savior and Master. Have a deep spiritual hunger and thirst for the Living Bread and the Living Water. Spend time in the scriptures and get to know Jesus- really know Him. I promise you will be satisfied, and He will change your life in ways you could never imagine.

  • Poor in Spirit

    Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

    Matthew 5:3

    I want to talk to those of you who are poor in spirit. You may not recognize yourself as such: that’s understandable. But if you’ve ever laid wide awake at night, thinking, “How could God ever love someone worthless as me?”, or resigned yourself that you could never be “good” enough to deserve God’s grace, that’s you. You want to do what’s right, but somehow you end up back in the same old destructive ways. You hate the fact that you’re ‘never enough’.

    Going back to Matthew 5, Jesus says in the next verse, verse 4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Many understand this to mean those who mourn over such things as loss of loved ones, being afflicted with disease, or other similar things will be comforted in God, and that’s true. But if you look at the previous verse, it takes on a wholly different meaning. It could possibly be interpreted, “blessed are the poor in sprit who mourn because of their pitiable state, who know what they are, because they will be comforted if they will come to Me.” If you’ve ever cried tears on your pillow at night because of what your life is like, you know what it is to mourn.

    I understand; I’m right there with you. I’ve done all of it. I tried “do it yourself” Christianity. I fought a pornography addiction for years but could never escape it. I was the man that Paul wrote about in the last part of Romans 7 (I’ve heard discussions on whether Paul was describing a believer or a nonbeliever; honestly, I don’t think it matters, because we all have this same struggle at times). I hated my life because it felt like a lie, which is exactly what it was.

    I have good news for you. You are the person who God had in mind when He put his plan of salvation and reconciliation into action. You’re the one He’s seeking. It’s only the ones who are so thoroughly broken, and know they are, who are willing to seek out One who can fix them. It’s why Jesus said that you must hate your own life if you want to be His disciple. You know what that means: you recognize how wretched, worthless, and miserable your life is, and you’d do anything to change it. But you don’t have the power, so you live with your guilt and shame. When you hate your life, you’re desperate to let someone help you change it, or in this case, give you a new one.

    In Luke 4, Jesus announced His ministry this way: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” The poor in spirit definitely fit into those categories: so do you. So do I.

    Without Christ we are slaves to sin, and Satan doesn’t release his slaves without a fight. He’ll tell you things like, “you’ll never be good enough, righteous enough, for God to love you”. He’ll try to convince you that you’re so evil and lost that you’re beyond God’s capacity to save you. He’ll tell you every lie in his arsenal to keep you from realizing you’re captive, blind, and oppressed, and that you are exactly the person that Jesus came seeking with the gospel (good news) that you can be free from all of that. You don’t have to listen to Satan’s lies any more.

    When you come to belief in Jesus, repent (turn away) from your sins and your old life, confess His as Savior, and are baptized, your old life is dead. Romans 6:4 tells us, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” I hope you catch what’s being said. Baptism buries our old life; it’s dead. We have a new life. We are set free from our former captivity to sin. Through Christ, we are made enough.

    Satan will still try to convince you that you can’t escape your old life. He will try to condemn you with guilt about what you’ve done and make you believe you can never change. He’ll try to tempt you to go back to that old familiar life of slavery to the addictions and self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. You just remind him, “I don’t live there anymore”. That person is dead, buried with Christ through baptism. You belong to Jesus now.

    If you recognize your spiritual poverty, by all means, mourn over it, but don’t stay there. God is looking for you. And realize this: when we recognize how wretched and lost we are, we can fully appreciate how awesome and amazing God’s love and grace is. Seek Him, and He will find you.