True Discipleship

Discipleship comes with a price. A big price. however, the cost is far, far less than the cost of not pursuing a life with Christ. At a midweek Bible study recently, our Pastor preached on Matthew chapter 10. He stated it would be a good idea to read Matthew 10 once a week! After thinking on that for some time and re-reading most of it when I got home that night, I came to realize why he has the enthusiasm he does for it.

Persecution Will Come

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Matthew 10:16-25 (ESV)

We may not be persecuted to the degree discussed in the text here in the U.S. at this point, but there are many places in the world where such trials await Christians all the time. Sure, the preaching of the cross may be considered foolishness by many we encounter, but that is nothing compared to the affliction suffered by many who claim Jesus as their Lord.

There is much more to that chapter than the excerpt I have included here. Please take the time to read it and reflect on it.

Hypocrite!

A Bible study at Church not too long ago was focused a lot on the subject of hypocrites. Some of the central Scriptures cited were taken from Matthew 23. For the purposes of this post, I would like to focus on them as we reflect on the hypocrisy we see not just in the world — but in our own lives, as well.

To begin with, let’s look at how the dictionary defines the word hypocrite: A person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives (courtesy of WordWeb).

13 “But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven! For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in.

15 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple is bound by nothing. But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound by the oath.’ 17 Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing. But if anyone swears by the gift on it he is bound by the oath.’ 19 You are blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and the one who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others. 24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel!

25 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!

27 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of your ancestors! 33 You snakes, you offspring of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? – Matthew 23:13-32 (NET)

I certainly see a lot of legalism in many Churches today. I have partaken in some myself over the years. Sometimes, the very things Jesus said to call out the hypocrites of the day are used by “modern day Pharisees.” It is all too easy to wield the hammer of Old Testament law when it suits us and disregard what doesn’t. Many Christians are relegated to second class members of the Christian community, often for something in their past that somehow isn’t covered under the blood? Many may say that all of our sins are, but reality doesn’t prove that to be the case oftentimes. It is too easy to mix works in with God’s grace — but it never works and is a breeding ground for the type of hypocrisy our Lord spoke against in Matthew 23. I sometimes wonder how accepted He would be in many of our modern churches, don’t you?

Amplified Study Bible

Just a brief note to praise the new Amplified Study Bible. I have used the Amplified Bible itself for some time now and find it to be a valuable tool in studying God’s Word. The references, explanations, and footnotes of the original version are quite a valuable asset to have along with the amplifications that bring out the meaning of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The 2015 version of the Amplified Bible has many new amplifications in the Old Testament and most of the original amplifications and been refined to make reading a little easier.

Now we have not only the new Amplified Bible to enjoy but also a new Study edition with added commentary that I find to be mostly non-biased and very helpful. I have been using it for a while alongside my trusty ESV and HCSB. Together, they make a great team for study.

Hang In There…

Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.

Psalm 37:1-3

Delivered from FEAR

I sought the Lord, and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant with joy;
their faces will never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him from all his troubles.
The Angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear Him, and rescues them.

Psalm 34: 4-7 (HCSB)

Did you notice that the psalmist didn’t say that he sought the Lord and was delivered from whatever was going on, but rather from his fear? You may come back with the fact that it says that the poor man cried and was “saved from all his troubles” — but what are the troubles? For me in my life, the troubles are primarily born somewhere between my left and right ears!

JOY: a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight

I was recently watching some videos from “Touching Lives,” a ministry of James Merritt, in which he discussed the difference between happiness and joy.  He pointed out that one can be happy without knowing the Lord, but happiness (as it comes from external stimuli) is fleeting — as it is dependent on outside stimulation for its existence. True joy, on the other hand, comes from the LORD. One can have happiness but not have joy. One cannot have joy without the LORD.

When I am filled with cares,
Your comfort brings me joy.

-Ps. 94:19 (HCSB)

For much of my life apart from my relationship with Jesus, joy was a fleeting concept that I chased in many forms. What I thought was the acquisition of joy was usually passing happiness that came from euphoric feelings induced by things such as alcohol, drugs or anything that made me ‘feel good.’ Whatever it was always left me eventually feeling unfulfilled and empty. Thank God that the joy I have in my life today comes from a source that never fails and is eternal.

His Incredible Grace

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. -Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)

I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t reflect on God’s incredible grace that I so desperately depend on. One of the issues we sometimes lose sight of in churches is exactly that: our absolute dependence on grace and not “religion” to save us. Sometimes we need that grace to cover sins we have committed after salvation — never mind what we did before we came to saving knowledge of Christ.

Some think that we can lose our salvation because of sin. I do not. I believe the blood of Jesus is sufficient to take care of our sin once and for all when we accept Him and make Him Lord of our lives. However, I mean really coming to faith and working on a relationship — not some emotional experience we may have had at one time in a church or crusade that ended when the event was over. The kind of relationship I am talking about invokes a conscience to remind us when we sin. When the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, our sin gets exposed. He does not come to condemn us, but to point it out and correct us so we can better walk in harmony with God.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. -Hebrews 4:16 (KJV)

So often we put our own spin on something that Jesus or perhaps one of His disciples stated in scripture and build a personal, judgmental theological system around it. It is sad when that happens because it often demeans the work of Christ on the Cross and most certainly ends up excluding people for some less-than-critical doctrine or perhaps some past sin which that particular theological system considers worse than another.

So, as I ponder the meaning of grace and its deep value, I cannot help but wonder how much pain and suffering would be excluded if we simply embraced grace and its Giver in love and appreciation? Much of it, I suspect.

Sin must not have power over you. You are not living by the Law. You have life because of God’s loving-favor. -Romans 6:14 (New Life Version NLV)

The First Step

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” -Mark 10:13-15 (NLT)

In any twelve step program, the first step involves admitting the fact that you are powerless over whatever dependency your are facing and it has made your life unmanageable. You cannot face an addiction head-on without first acknowledging that it is real and you can do nothing about it on your own without help. Many people show up to a program like Alcoholics Anonymous and either don’t get or stay sober [clean] because they convince themselves that they can do it on their own and don’t need other people — and most importantly God. In some cases, people get sober and take credit for it all themselves. Those are unfortunately of the type that don’t stick around. Ultimately, if I admit I am powerless, I don’t suddenly gain the power that is necessary to stay sober or clean on a daily basis.

In the same way, we must approach the idea of God and our salvation.

In The Life Recovery Devotional, the very first day discusses the idea of approaching and admitting our powerlessness to whatever our dependency is with the attitude of a little child. The devotion for that day goes on to say that children are a society’s most dependent segment and certainly completely dependent on their parents during the formative years of their development and beyond.

One of the many stumbling blocks between myself and God for the longest time was my addiction. It tried to blind me to everything and keep my sinful nature in check and in service to Satan for as long as it could. I listened to the lies of the enemy that would tell me that God would have nothing to do with me because of the person I had become and that I would never be able to get clean and live a decent God-centered life — ever. Lies, all lies.

Have you approached God as a little child? Jesus will welcome you.