Costing Everything

We have used this video before about 3 years ago, but I feel compelled to share it again. Our family watched “God’s Not Dead 2” last night and found it to be a blessing. However, one aspect that stood out to me is the reality that persecution is coming, and it is coming sooner than we hope and think that it will come. To follow after Christ though requires that we are willing to understand that ultimately it will cost us everything.

Walk in Unity

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! … For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133: 1, 3b).

“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4).

Unity. One of the things Jesus prayed for His followers (John 17:11) but one thing I don’t see a lot of today. Since the time of Jesus, God’s children have fought over everything from the core doctrines of the faith to the very petty disagreements. Churches have split over the proper way to baptize or how often to take communion, and what kind of bread and drink should be used when doing so. I really don’t think this is what God intended. Jesus would confront sin but He would not debate people to try to convince them of His views. He didn’t cast off His disciples every time they did something stupid. He understood that God gave Him those followers, and He spent His life teaching them and walking with them.

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Today, we often treat each other as easy come, easy go. Relationships just aren’t that important to us, which I think is very sad since people are the only thing we are taking to Heaven with us.

I realize there are times when you must separate from others but the only time Scripture tells us to cut off others is for immorality. There are also times when you may need to leave a church but there is a Godly way to do it, and it’s not by taking half the church with you.

We need to learn to recognize those whom God has put in our lives and, when we find them, determine to work things out and not let them go. We cannot receive the rebukes and exhortations and, yes, even occasional necessary rebukes if we aren’t in fellowship with others.

If you have cut off a friend over a small disagreement or have left a church with an attitude that affected more than just yourself, you need to repent. If you were part of a singing group that you feel mistreated you and you promptly slandered them upon your departure, you need to go back to those you have talked to and acknowledge your wrongdoing. It’s no wonder that people aren’t flocking to know God when they see His children fighting amongst themselves and tearing each other down. Satan doesn’t have to destroy the Church when the Church is doing a good job of destroying itself.

God Is Still On the Throne

supreme_court

This past week, the Supreme Court made a decision that has caused many to become worried over the future and the state of America. There is a reason that I don’t watch much news: because I know how easy it can be to become depressed and lose sight of the fact that God is still the same yesterday, today, and forever. The fact is that we have been losing our freedom for a while. This is just another spoke taken out of our wheel. No matter what the world does, however, God hasn’t changed, and there is a reason we are here at this moment. Our job is to find out what our purpose is in this ever-changing, dark world. My Facebook page has been riddled with posts as people express their views on the ruling but the best one I read was from a pastor in California who summed up perfectly how I feel. With his permission, I would like to share it with you:

Wow, what a day can hold. There has been so much conversation and online chatter about the Supreme Court Decision today and it is to be expected. I have had several conversations about it already. Its my privilege as a pastor, and its a blessing. But personally, I find myself so blessed to be doing what I do every Friday: preparing Bible studies so that Gods people might be refreshed, refocused, and that they might continue to disciple one another while engaging our ever-changing culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that will never change. Today a monumental decision has been made that will change our culture drastically in the near future. But Christian, what has changed really? The world will always be the world, and the church will always have work to do. In John 9:4-5 Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Lets pray to understand what it means to be the light of the world and passionately pursue that privilege until the Day comes when we will rest and be rewarded. Do not let your hearts be troubled, my friends, lets continue to be about the Fathers business.

Amen!

Accidental Discipleship

Change. All of us want to – need to – change in some way. We try all sorts of tactics, theories, imagesand drugs. All of which are shortcuts, focused on defeating the desires of our flesh. Too seldom do we seek God’s wisdom, thinking His way takes too long, requires too much effort.

But change is the wrong goal. It’s what the flesh wants and it’s a shortcut that will lead to disappointment or destruction. Knowing Jesus is the correct goal. In Him we are complete (Colossians 2:10). Whatever change is truly needed in our lives will be wrought by the Spirit of God if we abandon our plans for self-justification and pursue Christ. Not improvement, not change for the better, not relief from our pain; just Jesus.

Pursuing the wrong objective – a better life, defeating a habitual sin – is like attacking a heavily defended fortress (a stronghold) with toy weapons. We will be defeated. When we focus on the enemy, the sin, the stronghold that assails you – you are drawn away from the narrow path that Christ calls His brothers to walk. Only by keeping your eyes focused on your Guide can you keep from straying from the narrow way.

Christ is more than our goal. He is our creator, example, savior, teacher, brother, and King. All battles against sin will be – and can only be – won by making a determined, get-up-when-you-fall, faith-based pursuit of Jesus the Christ. When you or I fail to pursue Him, we grow complacent and disenchanted with Him. The allure of the flesh entices (James 1:14 & 15) and we fall – or jump – into sin. Why didn’t God stop us? Why didn’t He prevent it? He gave us His Spirit and His Son – and the choice to walk in Him or walk in the desires of our flesh. He gives us the promise that if we walk in Him, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). The flip side of that coin is also true: if we walk in the flesh we will not fulfill the desires of His spirit, but of our flesh.

Seek to know Him. Paul told the church at Corinth, “I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) Christ alone – good enough for the Apostle Paul. Is He enough for you? If not, it’s not because He is lacking – it’s because you and I choose wrong and fail to be thankful for Him. Choose Christ – above all else – regardless of your emotions.

As Jesus was deliberate in coming to Earth (Philippians 2:5 – 11) to seek and save you and me, we who are redeemed by His blood must be deliberate in seeking His will, His Word – Him.

If a man expects to drift into spiritual obedience or maturity, he is mightily deceived. This is what Satan would have God’s children believe – that we can mature to Christ-likeness by going with the flow.

Remember: The path of least resistance makes both men and rivers crooked. Choose to pursue Christ and he we will make your path straight. (Psalms 27:11)

This is Discipleship

 

This is Discipleship discipleship

Many techniques, programs and systems in the modern church are mistaken as discipleship. While those techniques may contain elements of discipleship, they are not the authentic thing. (See Part 1: “This is not Discipleship.”) This obviously begs the question: what is discipleship and what did Jesus mean when He gave us the Great Commission?

 

In spite of the King James’ use of the word “teach” for mathēteúō, all other translations, commentaries, and dictionaries are agreed that the word means more than simply teaching intellectual facts:

mathēteúō.Intransitively this word means “to be or become a pupil.” One reading of Mt. 27:57 has it with reference to Joseph of Arimathea; he is said to be a disciple of Jesus. In a distinctive transitive use (Mt. 13:52; 28:19; Acts 14:21) the NT also uses the term for “to make disciples.” Behind this sense possibly stands the NT belief that a call is the basis of discipleship of Jesus[1]

μαθητεύωb: to cause someone to become a disciple or follower of—‘to make disciples, to cause people to become followers.’ πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη go then, to all peoples and make them (my) disciples’ Mt 28:19.[2]

 

Learners and Followers

Implicit in the word mathēteúō are the concepts of learners and followers.

The word “disciple” means above all “learner” or “pupil.” The emphasis in the commission thus falls not on the initial proclamation of the gospel but more on the arduous task of nurturing into the experience of discipleship, an emphasis that is strengthened and explained by the instruction “teaching them to keep all that I have commanded” in v 20a.[3]

 

These three words—learners, pupils and teaching—sound synonymous, but they are not. Pupils do not necessarily learn, and teaching someone does not mean that that person has actually learned anything. Paul speaks of those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7). Such are neither disciples, learners, nor followers.

Besides the Twelve, Jesus also had other disciples during His earthly ministry (Matt 27:57; John 6:66; 7:3; Acts 1:15). Before Jesus, John had disciples. Disciples were simply people who followed a teacher and learned from the teacher. One can speak of the disciples of other rabbis or even of Greek philosophers. In all of these cases the purpose was for the disciple to learn both theory (theology) and practice (character and behavior) from the teacher. Disciples would later gather other disciples around them and so perpetuate the teaching. It is really quite simple and yet, as we have shown, very few practice true discipleship today. So let’s look at what true discipleship really should be.

 

A Relationship

The first thing that strikes me about Jesus’ disciples is that they had a personal relationship with their Master. Based on this personal relationship, the Master knew each of His disciples personally. As a result, He deals with and teaches each of the disciples based on their unique needs, personality and characteristics. Jesus related to Peter, John and Thomas in very different ways reflecting their unique relationship to Him. Although the Bible does not use the term disciple(s) after the book of Acts, it is clear that Paul had the same kind of relationship with Timothy, Silas, Titus and a number of others. Once again, the relationship was very personal. Both Paul and Jesus lived with their followers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The idea of a disciple who does not have a relationship with the teacher, and who is a stranger to the teacher, is a contradiction in terms.

 

The same therefore holds true today. We cannot make disciples of those with whom we are not in a personal relationship. This automatically limits the number of people one teacher/leader can shepherd. It also excludes the idea of professional councilors or absentee pastors, or disciples that shy away from personal relationships, as well as those who attend church for an hour a week. How can a pastor of a church of a thousand know, and have a relationship with, each of the members? Several years ago I went to see the pastor of a neighboring church about folk who had left our church for his. He did not even know about their existence until he looked them up on his computer, only to discover they had been attending his church for three months!

The reason for this personal relationship is that part of discipling is teaching each one according to their individual needs, background and potential. A one-size-fits-all discipling package simply does not exist, and therefore discredits all off-the-rack discipleship manuals and programs as bogus.

 

Many multiplication systems have been based on discipleship. The theory is that each believer should have 12 disciples, and each disciple should have 12, etc. This is purely a multi-level marketing/pyramid scheme. Discipleship can never be forced and controlled by statistics because it is relational. And because discipleship is a relational and dynamic process, it can never be forced to comply with a statistical model. At times Paul had only one “disciple” travelling with him and at other times there were several. Neither Jesus nor Paul taught a numerical model, and it is evident that none of the Apostles attempted to recreate Jesus’ “model” of twelve disciples.

 

Submission to the Teacher

A vital aspect of the relationship between teacher and disciple is the willingness of the disciple to submit to the teacher. This is one of the main reasons very little discipling happens in the Free World these days. Modern Christians are just not willing to submit to leaders. Modern believers consider themselves above correction and on a par with everyone else. Generally, “submission” only occurs as long as things go well and the relationship is affirming. The moment admonition, rebuke or discipline is needed the believer tends to leave the relationship, and the church, and withdraws from the relationship.

 

But without this submission there is no basis for a learner/teacher, follower/leader relationship. The whole purpose of discipleship is for the teacher to train the disciple. This includes not just the transmission of ideas and knowledge but actually having a hand in the shaping of the character and behavior of the learner. Paul’s epistles are replete with instructions to rebuke, warn, correct, command, charge and admonish (2Tim 4:2; 1Thes 2:11; Col 1:28; Titus 1:13; Titus 2:15; etc.).

 

It goes without saying that the teacher may never overstep the bounds between legitimate and godly discipleship and heavy shepherding or abuse.

 

The first ingredient in the discipleship process then are disciples who want to learn and who want to follow.

 

Teachers With Dirty Hands

Just as you need those who are willing to learn, you need those who are willing to teach. But teaching is not just from the relative safety of the pulpit. True teachers are willing to get their hands soiled with the dirty diapers of babes in Christ. While there are many who want to preach, there are not many who want the hassle of discipling people.

 

Discipling is hard work. It means getting involved with people at a personal level, listening to their ideas, risking their anger when correcting them, repeating the same things over and over until the penny eventually drops. (Just think of how many times Jesus said the same things to His disciples and they still did not understand.) Discipling means feeling the pain of failure when those to whom you have become close end up falling, sometimes in the most terrible waysthink of Peter denying the Lord! Discipling means flying blind without the help of a carefully prepared script or manual. Preaching is relatively easy since the preacher is on his own turf, controls the situation and is not interrupted. Discipling provides none of those safeguards. The teacher has to think on his feet and respond to the questions, arguments and reactions of the disciple over whom he has no direct control. There is just no way of knowing ahead of time what the disciple is going to come up with, say or do, next. It is this lack of a controlled environment that scares many leaders and prevents them from descending from the pulpit and engaging on a personal level with learners. Discipling does not have regular hours because people live life 24 hours a day. The pastor who wants to work to a carefully prepared schedule does not qualify, nor will he survive in the rough and tumble unpredictable world of real discipling.

 

And it is this unwillingness to accept the discomfort and pain of being a spiritual parent to spiritual (often wayward) children that has resulted in so few true teachers being available to disciple true believers. Thus without learners who are willing to learn, and without teachers who are willing to teach, no discipleship can take place.

 

The Cross

In addition to willing and capable teachers, and disciples that are eager to learn, there is a third vital ingredient without which no discipleship can take place and that is the cross.

 

Jesus Himself made this an entry requirement for disciples: “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27). In all three the Synoptics Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

 

This is not an optional extra for some disciples, it is essential for all disciples. Without the willingness of the follower to deny his own ideas, personality, desires, yea even his very self, he just cannot be a disciple. This is not because the Lord set an arbitrary standard, but because the essence of discipleship means the laying aside of self and being transformed into the likeness and image of Christ. This is not behavior modelling (see part 1), it is death (to self) and resurrection (in His image) on a daily basis.

 

No wonder Jesus had very few disciples. We expect it to be different for us, but it cannot be. In most cases where numbers of people are flocking to follow leaders the vital ingredient of the cross is missing. Hence the many things that are used as cheap substitutes for the cross.

 

Teaching How and What

Most teaching in modern churches is about the “what” of the faith, but discipleship is as much about the “how” as the “what.” This is just where the problem often lies. Seminaries teach the “what” and those who come out of those seminaries only understand the “what.” The “how” is learned at the feet of a true teacher and in the school of hard knocks. Obviously we do need to understand the “what” but without the “how” the “what” is of no value.

In the Great Commission, Jesus gives explicit instructions as to what needs to be taught in the process of making disciples: “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20).

 

Note that the command is to teach “to observe….” This is in contrast with “teaching to know….” The word “observe” literally means to do. The true disciple does what he was taught, thus head knowledge has to be translated into lifestyle and theory has to become practice. Very few Christians seem to know how to behave as Christians because they were never taught, neither in word nor by example. But that is what discipleship is really about. It is about becoming like Jesus (Romans 8:29) and becoming like Him is not about knowledge but it is about essencewho we are as evidenced through our lifestyle, values and actions.

 

Paul says: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;” (1 Thessalonians 2:10) and to Timothy: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God…”(1Tim 3:15). Behavior and conduct are simply not taught any longer, yet that is the very essence of Christianity. The world is constantly telling believers how they ought to act, but the church does not. It is no wonder then, that believers act more like the world than like Christ.

 

The art of casting an artificial fly on the end of a fly rod is not rocket science, yet one can read a dozen books about it without ever being able to master the simple skill. It is only when an experienced teacher demonstrates how to do it, and then allows you to practice while correcting your mistakes, that you will ever learn how to present an artificial fly to a fish. Christianity is the same. It was never intended to be learned only from reading, preaching or talking. Jesus showed His disciples how to live and to die, and then expected them to put into practice what He had taught through His example and by His words.

 

As a result, Luke writes his Gospel concerning “…all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”(Acts 1:1)

 

Word Based

Unless the personal involvement, setting an example, or active teaching is based on the Scriptures, it is simply some humanistic effort, management technique or philosophy. Paul says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The purpose of the doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction is to equip people for “every good work.” It is not merely for the sake of knowledge and, at the same time, is not good works based on some human philosophy. True discipleship is based on Scriptural principles that result in Godly living.

 

Discipleship at Home

Discipleship begins in the home. Parents are to disciple their children, teaching them by word and deed to be followers of Jesus Christ. But instead they choose to hire substitutes in the form of school teachers, Sunday school teachers, psychologists and an array of other hirelings. Meanwhile the parents are absent as they pursue their own selfish desires. These same absentee parents then turn around and blame everyone else when (not if) the child ends being more like the devil than Jesus.

 

Yet these same failed parents often want to be leaders in the church. Paul is emphatic that an elder must have proven his discipling skills at home (1Timothy 3:5). It is in the home that parents learn and develop discipling skills which are later used in the church. And it is in the home that children learn to be good followers and learners. It is not coincidental that the New Testament uses babes, children, and the process of growing to maturity as an analogy of the life of a Christian. There are therefore very real parallels between raising children and discipling believers. Both require the same skills, prayer, patience, observing, teaching, wisdom, correcting, encouraging, rebuking etc. Failure at home almost guarantees failure in the church.

 

Jesus and the Twelve

After three years with Jesus, His disciples had heard His teaching on every important subject. The fact that they did not understand much is irrelevant because, in time, the Holy Spirit would remind them of what they had learned (John 14:26). Not only had they heard His words but they had seen His life. They saw His relationship with His Father, how He reacted, how He handled different situations and people, how He dealt with weariness, frustration, temptation, anger and every other human experience.

 

When Jesus called them, they were a motley bunch of losers, but at the end of that time He was able to send them out as His Apostles (sent ones) to lay the foundation of the church. That was successful discipling. They knew what to do, how to act and how to react. Yes, they were still fallible men, but they had been discipled by Jesus and even their enemies could not deny that: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13).

 

Paul and Timothy

Paul had several disciples but the best of those was undoubtedly Timothy to whom Paul wrote, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions….” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Notice again the juxtaposition of “doctrine” and “manner of life.” Paul taught Timothy not only doctrine, but how to live. He taught him to live a life with a godly purpose, how to have faith in trials, how to endure pain, suffering and persecution, and how to fulfill his ministry.

 

Near the very end of Paul’s life he wrote to Timothy “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). Thus the pattern is perpetuated from one generation to the next.

 

We are not Jesus

But there is a vital difference between Jesus and usJesus made disciples of Himself but we do not make disciples of ourselves. Cult and other false leaders make people followers of themselves but true discipleship makes people followers of Jesus. Thirty times the book of Acts refers to “the disciples.” But never does it speak of disciples of Peter, John or Paul. “Disciples” was always understood to mean disciples of Jesus. A true teacher will always point men to Jesus and call men to follow Himnever to follow the teacher, his church, or some other human organization.

We are not called to clone or make copies of ourselves. We are to help people become like Jesus and to follow Him, and to ultimately learn from Him. The more those we teach resemble Him, the more successful they will be at making disciples.

 

Conclusion

Discipleship is not a technique or system. It is a lifestyle and is the essence of our faith. In its absence believers and churches become more worldly and less Christ-like. In spite of the proliferation of theological books and knowledge, we have abandoned our roots and failed to obey the command to make disciples. For this reason, more than any other, the church in the West has simply become an organization and has lost its life and light.

“… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

 

 

Anton Bosch

9070 Sunland Blvd

Sun Valley, CA, 91352

www.antonbosch.org

www.sunvalleycommunity.net

 

 


[1]Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[2]Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

[3]Hagner, Donald A. Word Biblical Commentary. Matthew 14-28. Thomas Nelson.1995. p887.

 

 

Family Renewal – An Introduction

It is my privilege to introduce a fairly new ministry to the faithful readers here at Defending Contending. In 1999, our family first met Sis. Skeet Savage and her family which includes her daughter, Sony Elise and her son, Israel Wayne. Sis. Skeet is responsible for the writing ministries under the umbrella of Wisdom’s Gate Ministries. Down through the years, the ministry of Wisdom’s Gate has been a personal blessing to our family in so many ways.

In late 2013, the Lord graciously allowed the combined years of experience of writing, editing, and speaking to flourish into a new outreach entitled Family Renewal. Family Renewal is a ministry co-founded by Israel Wayne, his wife Brook, and Israel’s oldest sister, Sony Elise. The ministry is dedicated to family discipleship, teaching others how to defend their faith, and teaching the importance of a Biblical worldview.

Israel, Brook, and Sony Elise are all prolific writers and have been been a blessing to many down through their years of writing. In addition, Israel speaks throughout the year at various evangelical churches, homeschool conferences, and apologetics seminars.

questions-god-asks-promo
Recently, Israel had the privilege of seeing a new book published. This book, Questions God Asks: Unlocking The Wisdom of Eternity, would be a welcome addition to the library of every Christian home.

If you or anyone you know might be interested in having Israel speak at your church, men’s retreat, family camp, or for a Biblical Worldview or Apologetics conference, please contact Sis. Sony at (269) 282-6058 for further details or you may email them at Family Renewal Ministries.

What is a disciple?

What is a disciple?Disciple Making Church-background

Little Tommy was doing very badly in math. His parents had tried everything; tutors, flash cards, special learning centers, everything they could think of. Finally, in a last ditch effort, they enrolled him in the local Catholic School.

After the first day, little Tommy came home with a very serious look on his face. He didn’t kiss his mother hello, but instead went straight to his room and started studying. When his mother went up to check, she found books and papers spread out all over the room and Tommy hard at work.

To her further amazement, the minute he finished dinner he marched back to his room without a word and hit the books as hard as before.

This went on day after day, for the entire first term until Tommy finally brought home his report card. He quietly laid it on the table, went on up to his room, and hit the books. With some trepidation, his mom looked at it, but to her surprise and relief, little Tommy had an “A” in math.

Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, she went up to his room and asked “Son, what was it? Was it the nuns?” Tommy shook his head. “Well then,” she continued, “was it the books, the discipline, the structure, the uniforms, WHAT was it?”

Tommy just looked at her and said, “On the first day of school, when I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they weren’t fooling around.”

You see, Tommy developed a COMMITMENT that changed his life! The funny part is that we all know Tommy’s commitment was based on a misunderstanding. Tommy was a learner, but not a disciple. His work was good – by man’s standards – but his motive was all wrong.

Commitment is like faith in several ways. Like faith, the object or reason for your commitment is what determines how significant it is. Like faith, commitment can be based on the wrong motivation. And like faith, commitment is important, and must be focused on Christ if it to have any value.

From the Homan Bible Dictionary: “In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. Disciples of the rabbis could select their teachers.

One can assume that Jesus used traditional rabbinic teaching techniques (question and answer, discussion, memorization) to instruct His disciples. In many respects Jesus differed from the rabbis. He called His disciples, saying, “Follow me”. He taught more as a bearer of divine revelation than a link in the chain of Jewish tradition.”

Disciples of Christ are called by Him – they haven’t chosen Him.

It’s the Heart of the matter

Here’s the unpleasant reality – behavior doesn’t necessarily reveal the heart. Tommy’s mother wanted him to do better in math. But no parent would want his child to have Tommy’s motivation as the reason for the proper behavior. That funny story points out a major problem in many people’s lives: they make major commitments based on misconceptions, we do the right thing for the wrong reason. When circumstances get difficult, the false premise of our commitment causes it to crumble. Like a house built on sand. Our boy Tommy probably lost his zeal for math after a few semesters. He may have found out the truth about the “guy nailed to the plus sign”.

What does the Bible say about those who would be Christ’s disciples? In Luke 14: 25 – 27 “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” This is a standard traditional rabbis and other teachers did not require. But we Christians are to love Christ more than we love our Earthly family.

Matthew 28:16 – 20 The Great Commission: “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

This word, “teach” is the Greek word “math-ayt-yoo’-o“ (verse 19) or “didasko” (verse 20), both of which mean to disciple or instruct. One thing of interest here: Christ is telling His disciples to “teach all nations” – yet He is not telling each disciple to teach all nations. The church must evangelize and disciple the whole world, but only God Himself can tell you and I where and how we are to “go and teach”. It’s obvious that not every disciple can go to all nations. But the church can!

Luke 6:46 “why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” The Lord wants us to realize that our words must be backed up by our actions. We aren’t the first generation to live at odds with our professed beliefs. And the world is watching us, to see if we live on Monday in accordance to our “Amens” on Sunday.

Matthew 22:37 – 40 The Greatest Commandment: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

If we are Christ’s disciples, we will love Him with the right motive and that love with be evident to others. If we don’t obey Him in the things that we know are His will, how can we claim to be His disciples?

Consider marriage, the most serious, sacred commitment one person can make to another person – created to give mankind a glimpse of Christ’s commitment to the church. Yet many marriages end in divorce and so often the reason – more properly, the excuse – is irreconcilable differences. Many people get married with prenuptial agreements in place. Plans already made and documented, detailing who gets what WHEN they divorce. These folk are planning to fail. Many people get married not realizing God is the author of the institution – whether they believe in Him or not. They get married thinking they are going to be able to change their mate into their own image. They get married thinking their own faults will be overlooked but they won’t overlook their mate’s. All of these misconceptions lead to unrealized expectations and frustrations. And failure. The sacred commitment is abandoned. One’s view of marriage reveals one’s view of God. This happens in the church as often as outside the church. By people focused on self, not Christ

The American Heritage Dictionary defines commitment as “A pledge to do. The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person.” Why is it that our “pledge” to cherish until death often fails? Do we let the state of our emotions rule our intellect, creating irreconcilable differences where the Lord intended complimentary strengths and weaknesses? Many do, and the “life-long” commitment is abandoned.

Commitment Isn’t Enough

You recall the case of three teenagers, named Hananiah, to Mishael, and Azariah. The king ordered all his people to worship an idol and these boys were committed to their God – not his – so they refused. The king had the boys brought before him and told them to bow down to the idol or be burned to death in the furnace. These teenagers, you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Nebuchadnezzar was committed. He threw the boys into the furnace. But God had a plan working that the king could not see and did not anticipate, one that ultimately changed his plans to line up with God’s.

Mere commitment might have let them comply with Nebuchadnezzar because of irreconcilable differences between their religion and life itself. They could have rationalized this one compromise, because commitments are made to be broken. But their commitment had been left behind; they had surrendered their rights – abandoned their lives – to God and could not go back. Regardless of the outcome. The young men went beyond commitment – they were disciples. That’s the line that we must cross – leaving the future to God, obeying Him despite the consequences. Because we know Him and trust Him.

Abandoned to God

The American Heritage Dictionary defines abandon as “To surrender one’s right; give up entirely. To yield oneself completely.”

Commitment is good, but in our language today, it implies too much ongoing effort on our part. It is too often bound up in circumstances that shift as sand on the beach during a hurricane. As such, commitment falls short, leaving us free to re-evaluate our decision and change it as circumstances warrant. The call of Christ is for you and me to yield completely – no turning back. And commitment cannot take us as far as Christ would have us go in our walk. Like going to Europe – you can drive yourself to the airport, but you will have to trust completely in the airplane and its crew to get you across the ocean.

When a pastor calls upon you to make a commitment for Christ, he better be telling you to abandon your life to Christ. A former pastor of mine said, “God didn’t invade planet Earth to change your life, He came to kill you!” Jesus said to his disciples, “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.” (Matthew 16:24-25) You cannot accept His gift of salvation on your terms – with an escape clause or an opportunity to bail out if times get tough. Life in Christ is complete – on His terms. With His unconditional love, Christ calls us to an unconditional surrender. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20” I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Nobody who was ever crucified lived. And there’s no turning back. Is your commitment strong enough to ensure you will never turn back? Mine isn’t and neither is yours. We’re men, our will is insufficient. As Dirty Harry puts it, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

This is standard Jesus set with His own life. Philippians 2:6-8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Yes, Christ was committed – perfectly. And there’s the rub – our commitments, and the efforts to keep them, are imperfect.

What was so special about the death of Christ that goes beyond commitment? He was arrested and dragged all over town during the dead of night, repeatedly beaten and mocked through six separate trails. Whipped 39 times with a whip of leather with knots holding bits of bone or balls of lead. Romans had scourging down to science, bringing the victim as close to death as possible. The balls bruised, the leather thongs cut open the bruises. Continued beating tore into muscles, tearing them such that bleeding flesh hung in quivering ribbons. Arteries, veins and muscles were torn open, at times even entrails were laid bare. Normally, a victim would faint after two and half minutes.

How many of us would find a way out of a commitment before we got to the whip? And He had yet to face the cross. And we deserve that death; He didn’t.

Mel Gibson’s movie did not exaggerate the cruelty of the suffering Christ submitted Himself to.

Prior to His arrest, Christ prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Then He was led away, beaten, and nailed to the cross.

Abandon: “To surrender one’s right; give up entirely. To yield oneself completely.” Not my will, but His. This is the standard, the call of Christ to men.

Who Holds the Future?

Professional athletes are committed. They work hard, give of themselves and perform amazing physical feats. But how often do contract disputes, injuries, personal issues get in the way of their commitment? As remarkable as your favorite football player is on the field, his efforts fall short of perfection. Since Troy Aikman could not predict the future nor control the aging of his own body, his relationship with the Dallas Cowboys ended a year or two earlier than he planned. In spite of his passionate commitment to play baseball, Daryl Strawberry’s unplanned drug addiction was more powerful. These athletes are wonderfully talented, but they cannot control what is yet to come.

Your marriage will never be what you expected. No matter how hard you work, it’s a commitment that you may not be able to keep. Your life will never turn out how your planned it. Because we are not in control and cannot see the future, sacred relationships must be marked – controlled – by something that will not change. Something outside yourself, that is true whether you agree with it or not, is true whether you know about it or not. God’s Word is true, will never fail, will never change. Everything crafted by man will fail, will change.

He calls you and me to walk in obedience as sons of the most high King of kings. He says if we love Him we will obey His teachings. We should be able to say, “I’m abandoned to the One who love me and gave Himself that I might have life eternal.” So great a gift – all the world’s riches could not buy it. Such a small price for me to pay – not to earn it, but to demonstrate that He’s given it to me – obey the perfect will of my Father in heaven, rather than my myopic, self destructive will. And He promises peace and joy – something the whole lost world is dying for and cannot deliver. How could we refuse?

No Turning Back

When Hernando Cortez landed his Spanish fleet on the shores of Mexico in the spring of 1519, he considered his mission too critical to quit. So when the difficulties in the New World proved to be more than his crews envisioned, he ordered them to burn the ships that brought them the new world – and could take them back to Spain. It may be that he had heard the legend of a Greek general who torched his ships so his army would not be tempted to retreat in the heat of the battle. Whatever his reason, Cortez took the commitment he and his men had made and turned it into being completely yielded. No turning back – abandoned to the mission.

Why does this matter?

Everyone wants to live a life that matters. Every godly man wants to leave a godly legacy. What does it take to do so?

Consider Goodyear, Rockefeller, Pulitzer, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Macy, Gould, Crane, Astor. Names you know. In 1886 some of the East Coast’s most prominent millionaires purchased a coastal island near Georgia for a hunting preserve and winter family retreat. Members of the exclusive, clannish Jekyll Island Club, they controlled one-sixth of the world’s wealth, forging together an alliance that virtually controlled America’s corporations and government. As an example, in one of the elegant private rooms of the secluded Jekyll Island Clubhouse, top government officials hammered out the first draft of the Federal Reserve Act.

The first transcontinental telephone call was initiated from the Jekyll Island Clubhouse to President Woodrow Wilson in Washington and Alexander Graham Bell in New York. J. P. Morgan twice financed the teetering United States government, staving off federal bankruptcy. The Jekyll Island Club was the absolute highest form of a temporal kingdom. These men were committed – devoted – to worldly success and had achieved it!

Though they once commanded one-sixth of the world’s wealth, these power brokers have two things in common with every other man of their era: All their plans have come and gone, and they are all dead.

Today, the Jekyll Island Club is history. Curious visitors wander among a half-dozen restored buildings scattered around the grounds. The overgrown weeds, the peeling paint, the shattered glass – all vividly illustrate the futility of man-made kingdoms. Except those restored for tourists, the posh winter “cottages” lay in ruin, representing the final destiny of all the kingdoms of man.

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). All the benefits of prosperity are temporal. All the risks of prosperity are eternal. Tread lightly in temporal kingdoms, for all our plans will come to an end, and then we die. The only profit that matters is an eternal one. Are you spending your wealth for Earthly pleasures or are you sending it ahead to heaven by building the kingdom of God?

What are you committed to? If your commitment is to reform your flesh – compelling yourself to bigger and better things – your focus is on the wrong target and you will fail. Your commitment, if you are to succeed, must be in Christ – plus nothing. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” “Be anxious for nothing …” Not “Me first!” Where’s your focus? Your commitment? Want success in the battle over your sinful flesh? “Walk in the spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

Commitment? Go farther. Mere commitment won’t take you where Christ calls you to go. You want success in your walk with the Savior and your marriage? Deny – abandon – yourself to a higher calling. Are you willing to answer His call? Want to leave a godly legacy? The legacy you leave will be the legacy you live. You don’t build a legacy in the last six months of your life. As the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt one stone at a time, your godly legacy will be built one day, one decision, at a time. You can’t microwave it, buy it from L.L. Bean, or fake it. Live for Christ! Walk in the spirit and you will fulfill His plan for your life. Only at the end of such a life will you or I have the legacy we yearn to leave for our children and grand children.

In 1994, a team of Christians arrived in Stravopol, Russia to distribute Bibles. A local resident recalled seeing Bibles in an old warehouse – they had been confiscated in the 1930s when Stalin was persecuting the church. Amazingly, the Bibles were still there!

Among those who showed up to load them into trucks was a young agnostic student who was simply looking to earn some easy money. But he soon slipped away from the job with a Bible he had stolen. Some time later, a fellow worker found him in a corner, weeping. Out of the hundreds of Bibles, he had stolen one that bore the handwritten signature of his own grandmother. Persecuted for her faith, she had no doubt prayed for her family often. God used that woman’s Bible – preserved for 60 years – to convict her young grandson of his sins.

Romans 10:17 – “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” It is the Word of God that convicts people of their sin and brings them to Godly repentance. We must know this or else we will fear failure about our ability to witness and evangelize adequately.

Want success that matters? I do. Abandon yourself to Christ and let Him direct your work, use your wealth, and secure your future. There is hope in none other and in Him alone is there eternal security.