Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Telling the Truth

When it comes to a persons position before God, love doesn't  sugar coat the truth. Sugarcoating has the flavor of dishonesty. I don’t think its wise or loving to plant seeds of dishonesty while trying to, at the same time, tell about the honest truth. The only one that benefits is the sugarcoaters desire not to be hated. 
        Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their            fathers treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26 NIV)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sex in Christianity

Before being a follower of Jesus Christ we had certain views on life around us. We all have a perspective on sex. We have a perspective on politics. And we have our own personal philosophy on how to live life. Then you become a follower of Jesus Christ and you bring all these perspectives with you into this new life. These are part of you. They are not separate compartments inside of you. They filter how you look at life on this earth. However, when you change from living the life apart from Jesus to living a life as a follower of Jesus you begin to want to change things in your life. These particular perspectives need to be put under the microscope of the New Testament to determine if they can stay the same or must change.

Practically speaking, as we continue to sojourn on this earth, in these bodies, these changes typically go from imperfection to less imperfection. Usually it’s a gradual change, sometimes it’s an immediate change and then there is every degree of change in-between. The main idea is change and this change being in the right direction. True perfection will not be attained until we receive our new resurrected bodies. Until then we are on a journey forward towards perfection. Never to be attained this side of heaven however always moving closer to it.
The sexual morality debate has been going on throughout recorded history. There are those who want no rules when it comes to sexual behavior. There are those who want some rules when it comes to sexual behavior, although defined subjectively. Then there are those who really want the right rules when it comes to sexual behavior. For this we will look at what the Bible teaches us about the sexual side of human beings.

Before someone becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, typically their views on sex are result of the culture around them. These views are typically shaped by one’s home environment, the people they hang out with and what the media communicates. Now there is overlap between the world’s view of sex and the biblical view of sex. Typically in our culture, within the United States of America, cheating on someone is considered to be wrong. Meaning that two people who have come together to form a monogamous relationship, if one of them seeks a sexual partner outside of this relationship against the will of their partner this is typically considered wrong behavior.

One thing that must be understood in all its clarity is that it doesn't matter if you are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or poly-amorous we all stand before God condemned as sinners apart from Jesus Christ. Whatever your sexual perspective is these reflect what’s in your heart. When a person becomes a follower of Jesus Christ our whole being is given over to him. That includes what we do, our talents, our strengths, all that we are or could ever hope to be are set before Jesus Christ to be the master of them all. Under the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ we can determine what our sexual views are: a prison, a thirst that is never quenched or a joyous aspect of life that is not measured by how many orgasms we have. It is not measured by what kind of sexual thought life we have. It is not measured by what the culture around us has determined what is manly or what is feminist.
In the culture of the United States the underlying philosophy of life that drives the culture of sex is “to each their own”. On television and in magazines there is a proliferation of ways to increase your sexual prowess and a urging of individuals to claim their sexual rights. These, so called, sexual rights are used like political footballs. Our culture says, “If you can get the upper hand sexually on the other person do it, therefore they will be depended upon you for the gratification.” By this kind of philosophy one person is above another. This is the model of what a winning sexual relationship looks like in the world. And within this model the exchanges are done through contracts and conditions with the constant threat of sex being withheld. This kind of relationship also gives birth to a constant war for control in this and other aspects of human life. The bible teaches us to esteem others as above you. The world says take the high ground so that you can be above others and thereby use people as your own personal stepping stones to satisfy your personal agenda.

If you are living for this life only then there really are no sexual barriers other than what two or more people agree on. This would be considered a worldly perspective. However, when you become a citizen of the kingdom of God through the person of Jesus Christ your views on how you live your life change. Because, as followers of Jesus Christ we understand that we don’t live for this life only. There is a life outside of ourselves, which is more than what our senses can take in. That is why Jesus said that a person must be born again if they want to see that life which exists apart from our five senses. Unless your spiritual eyes are opened sexual boundaries are a foreign idea and something to be resisted. Unless the Holy Spirit gives birth to our spirit sexual boundaries are ambiguous and ever shifting. It is this citizen of the kingdom of God, with the help of the person of the Holy Spirit, which is able to make judgments about how a child of God should live within the body of Christ and the world around them.

Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians that a husband is to love his wife even to the point of laying down his life for her. Wives are to respect and follow the lead of their husbands. (Eph 5) The Bible also teaches us that in this marriage covenant relationship that the spouse’s body belongs to the other spouse and that sexual intimacy is not to be withheld as a weapon to emotionally manipulate the other spouse into doing their will. There is a time and a place for withholding but that’s arrived at by mutual consent. (1 Cor 7) Sexual relationships and sexual activity are only condoned within a heterosexual monogamous marriage covenant for life. The Bible tells us that marriage is good. It is the first institution among people that was started by God. We see in Genesis that God called it good. However, so is celibacy. (1 Cor 7) As followers of Jesus Christ we should avoid all forms of sexually immoral behavior with our bodies. But, it doesn't stop there. God says your thought life about sex or what we call today fantasies must be brought before the cross and examined.

People with a worldly perspective will do all they can to dismiss biblical sexual morals. They will use terms like outmoded, repressive, unscientific, preposterous, arbitrary and contrary to how humans have lived throughout recorded history. As followers of Jesus Christ we understand that this would be a perspective from the world. We should not be offended however, we cannot back down if we claim that Jesus is truly the Lord of our life. We understand from an experiential point of view (because we've been there, done that) that humanity is broken and because it is broken its wisdom's and philosophies are broken. This would include it’s philosophies of sexual behavior.
Romans 1:32 (NIV) Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Sometimes as Christians we don’t want to give up certain aspects of our life. And we think of ways to justify our sexual behaviors. We might say that the word of God is about the spirit of the law not so much the letter of the law and that the bottom line is really “love”. Someone might say, “I could tell people about Jesus in bed or on the subway that’s what really matters.”

Some of the consequences of engaging in sexual behavior outside of the parameters that God is established will impacted are: feelings of anxiety, fear, and confusion. (The bible tells us the author of confusion is Satan.) Which means that you are not experiencing God’s presence of peace in your life. The energizing life of the Holy Spirit is diminished in your life. You begin to see the reality of what the writer of Psalms said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” (Psalms 66:18 NIV) For a follower of Jesus Christ this is a terrible place to be.

Jesus wants to be that person who you trust in and rely on for peace and happiness and satisfaction. And it is through the agent of the Holy Spirit that he helps us to overcome and move forward not backwards in our walk with God and each other. Maintaining that forward progress is not a result of some magical compelling power but a result of choosing, an act of the will. This results in maintaining the presence of God in your life. It is better to be a slave to God than a slave to our passions that come from our sinful human nature. Peter writes that a person is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:19) Before Christ I was a slave to my sexual thoughts, my sexual motivations and my sexual actions. It’s kind of like that person who wants to give up smoking and they make that statement, “I can stop anytime I want.” But they never really do. My views on sex controlled me and my behavior therefore I was a slave to that.

Most people enter into a sexual relationship not for the purpose of releasing sexual tension, because masturbation can do that, but to overcome a sense of loneliness or isolation. We use sex as a means to overcoming loneliness. The world tells us it’s the best way to temporarily find something that “looks like” a committed caring communicating relationship. It is nothing but a feeble attempt to find something that no human being could give, perfect love in a committed relationship that will not fade. There is this emptiness that resides in each and every person. Solomon says that eternity is been placed in every person’s heart. Pascal says that we all have a God shaped void that’s longing to be filled. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38 NIV) This living water will quench every thirst that comes from the soul of the human. The true answers to life’s loneliness is found in that which cannot be shaken, on a rock that is mightier than any mountain, in a well that will never run dry, in the person of Jesus Christ alone.

Typically if a Christian is engaging in sexual immoral behavior with another person they might get a commitment and some communication in the beginning however, it will not last. The relationship starts off with an explosion of romantic feelings. Along with those feelings comes a sense of connection however, this would soon fade into emptiness and repetition. It becomes a relationship that’s just going through the motion and emotions. These relationships eventually become strung along. Games are played. Eventually one would leave. Then there would be some kind of internal mental gymnastics that gets you to set goals that the next relationship will be better. It usually isn't.
 We begin to learn that the feelings of loneliness and isolation that we’re so desperate to avoid do not disappear, even when we are shacked up with someone or pretending to be married. You could be lying in bed with someone, that is sound asleep, and you are feeling like the loneliest person in the world. People experience this in crowded rooms. The person next to you probably wanted the same things as you did. They wanted communication, be cared for, and an unshakable commitment. When people spend their energy and time to get this from the other person the result is we end up with even less and the loneliness is uncovered. It never really went away. It was just swept under the rug, so to speak. The relationship between a man and a woman was never meant to be fueled under our own power. The real fuel is Jesus in the center of each person’s life individually 1st and then within the context of marriage Jesus becomes number 1 in that relationship.

If sexual contact before marriage is not God’s will for someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ than what’s wrong with masturbation. The Bible doesn't address the topic of masturbation directly. Because of that some Christians say that it is an acceptable safety valve. Before this becomes an acceptable safety valve one issue must be addressed. What is your thought life or what are your fantasies? The mental images that take place are thoughts that usually produce lust. Lustful thoughts according to Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount tells us that they are equal to committing the act itself.

Masturbating for the reasons of a good safety valve or practice for when you enter into the marriage covenant will damage that sexual part of your human nature that God wants you to bring into that marriage covenant. That’s probably most of us. That’s why we have such an amazing God. He can repair ALL things. I’m not saying he will. I’m just saying we need to ask Him. God wants his people to come together intact and not damaged.

Our 1st sexually aroused experiences can condition our behavior when it comes to sex in the future. Sexual feelings attached themselves to that thing that is causing the stimulation. If repeated enough times it can become something that is essential in order to experience sexual satisfaction in the future. For example, a boy experiencing his 1st sexual stimulation while seeing women’s underwear. When he wants to experience that same euphoria he conjures up women’s underwear to aid him while he masturbates. Eventually after a multitude of events as described he begins to find he cannot be sexually aroused unless he has women’s underwear around. This is not sexual freedom this is sexual bondage. This is the danger of masturbation or pre-marital sex. These stimuli become imprinted on that part of our soul that deals with our sexual nature. Sexual freedom is experiencing sex within God’s design. We humans, when we try to do it outside of God’s design really mess things up.
Now what happens is that the fantasies becomes a type of sexual reality. Then when reality comes along it will never be as good as the fantasy. You begin to look for the perfect experience but only find a disappointing experience. This will definitely go against what the world says. However, a matter of fact, going into the marriage bed sexually naive will produce a relationship where sex is not just an event, and you’ll probably experience more of a reliably mutual mental, emotional and physical satisfaction.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you just have to ask yourself do you want more of God’s spirit, than temporary physical pleasure.

Is God as good as his word? Is he the God of history? The history of the world and each born again follower of Jesus Christ? Do you believe that God desires to work all of life’s realities, both pleasant and unpleasant, in a Christian’s life were the end result is to bring glory to God and to be more like Jesus for all eternity?

If the answer is yes then we don’t want to miss out on any of the good things that he has in store for us, even if it means sometimes doing spiritual exercises when it would be easier to grab onto an immediate pleasant moment of satisfaction in order to evade or postpone some boring task or anxiety provoked commitment. There are moments when we believe our solutions are better than God’s but those are just moments and they will pass with the help of the Holy Spirit. We must abandon the worldly view of sex and allow God to replace that view with his wisdom and love.
Jesus came to give us life and to give it to us more abundantly than what this world could ever do. Sexuality is not bad. God created sex. He created the feelings of sexual arousal. He only asked that we trust him with that part of our life. Just like we would trust him with our material wealth, our employment, the friends we make and even our family members. We must release the old so that we may receive the new. He wants to pour new wine into new wine skins.

Thank you V. Mary Stewart





            

Friday, January 16, 2015

Money! The corrupter of the body of Christ.

What does the New Testament say about collecting money from individuals that are part of the body of Christ? When we survey the New Testament we see a few passages that refer to believers giving of their worldly assets and what value should replace on these assets.

The first thing I want to do is examine what Jesus taught us in the Gospels about money. In the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew chapter 6 Jesus addresses the subject of collecting treasures. Treasures can come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. I specifically want to address money. Jesus tells his disciples, which would include all the members who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, not to live for money.

Each and every one of us before we came into a relationship with Jesus Christ were part of the world. In this state most people lived for and put their faith in money as a means to an end. As the things that will provide security and happiness in life. The pursuit of money controlled the way we lived our lives. To the point where it reigned as the motivating factor of our hearts desire. This motivating factor of our hearts Jesus referred to as darkness. (Matthew 6:22-23) He also said that this darkness was a person’s Master or Lord. Therefore, if you want to be his follower money can no longer be our Lord and Master. When something is our Lord and master it becomes our life. We worship and serve this Master. We give our time and energy this Master. Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that though the world says we need money in order to survive he told us that was a lie. He told us not to worry about our life in regards to what we eat or what we wear because life is not those things. Life is more important than those things.

Nothing has changed in the world since Jesus’ is time. Our culture, in the United States of America, still reflects the same values that the world did during Jesus’ time in regards to money. On Television some of the most popular shows are ones based on food and fashion and the pursuit of those things. The packaged food industry itself has science developing ways to create addictive tastes. In the raising of children the love of fashion starts in the elementary school years. I remember kids would get teased if they were wearing fake brands of Converse sneakers. Or if someone found out that your parents shop for your cloths at a Goodwill store or even a Kmart. Now in order to get the best foods, wear the most fashionable clothing you need money. Money was the means to live life according to the world. As followers of Jesus Christ the Bible teaches us that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. (James 4:4 NIV) Money has an assigned value to it. That value is what produces happiness and security. When we assign a value it begins to control our world. However, in the institutionalize churches today money has taken, if not the throne of Jesus, it has set up another thrown next to Jesus.

When we look at the New Testament in regards to believers giving their money it was specifically to meet the needs of other believers. It wasn’t to fund a Christmas lights display outside of our church buildings during the holiday season. It wasn’t to fund a building project. It wasn’t to fund a new sound system or flatscreen TVs. It wasn’t for the purpose of a group of believers to buy real estate in this world. Or to start a banking system to loan to fellow believers and then charge them interest. And it wasn’t to pay pastors a salary to run a church.

We see the first evidence of those who were followers of Jesus Christ selling their possessions and giving to the body of believers to meet the needs of those who are without. (Acts 2:45, 4:34-35)  You might ask without what? Jesus only addressed the meeting of the needs of food and clothing. We see the same thing mentioned when Paul was instructing Timothy about money. “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:8 NIV) We should notice the pronouns “we” in this verse. We see Paul speaking about himself and Timothy and I would suspect that this “we” would also include all of those within the body of Christ. Then I would like us to notice that the two items that Paul mentions that are the same things that Jesus spoke about in the Gospels when it comes to the needs of life on this earth which are food and clothing. Nothing more nothing less.

As the body of Christ is growing in the known world of the time of the church’s beginnings, we see Paul taking up another collection. He’s passing around the offering plate, so to speak, for the purpose of meeting the needs of those who are in the body of Christ. He says in 2 Corinthians about God’s people in one place were serving Gods people in another place, that “this service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12 NIV) Here again we take notice of the word “needs”. And let me repeat what those needs are, according to the New Testament, are food and clothing.

The purpose of collecting money from believers was not so that one believer would have more than another believer. It is a sad thing when you see a pastor waiting in line to get the next iPhone and people in his flock are standing in line to get food stamps. Then this same pastor goes to the pulpit and tells God’s people they need to give when the collection plate comes around because it’s God’s will. That even if you are poor you still need to give something, preferably a tenth of whatever you are getting. They tell the story of the widows and her small copper coins (Mark 12:41-44) to justify them asking even the poor within their congregation to give even if it hurts so that he can maintain his lifestyle. So he can buy the next iPhone or flat screen TV that comes out. They really emphasize the tithe and being God’s will for the New Testament believers. Even though it’s not mentioned once in any of the epistles or Acts. Why? Because the tithe was part of the Old Covenant. Someone might say Jesus mentioned it in Matthew 23:23. Yes he did. However, we must remember the tithe was for the Levitical priesthood. Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees, not for the letter of the law but the more important parts on the law they neglected. If Jesus said the Pharisees, “you offer the right animal sacrifices but neglect justice” would we then say we still need to sacrifice animals. No. Because Jesus put an end to the Levitical requirements of the law and that included the dietary restrictions and the tithe.

Paul said that when it comes to the body of Christ, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 NIV) It is because of the institutionalization of Christianity that we see this one head figure ruling over a group of others in the body of Christ. This is the way of the world. We are so steep and entrenched (what is a trench but a grave with two open ends) in this system that people would rebel against this kind of biblical thinking, because they no longer live by faith but by sight. The institutionalized religious system is all that they can see when it comes to having their needs and wants met.

There is only one Lord and that is the person of Jesus Christ. However, the world and its system has crept into the body of Christ to where money is the driving influence of the churches today. Some churches refuse to preach the entire gospel message for fear of losing people that give to that particular church. We have set up people who are at the head who will vilify those who challenge their form of institutionalize religion so that the challenger may be silenced in order that the money that they receive will not be diminished.

Some may point out Scriptures such as, “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14 NIV) as a justification for receiving a salary with benefits from a local body of believers. Or they might even quote, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17 NIV) as a justification for them to receive more than those who are under their care who have much less. So what does “living” and “double honor” really mean? When we look at these particular words they must be filtered through what the rest of the New Testament teaches about money. Not how the institutional religions of the day have adopted the systems of the world to govern that denomination or local churches of the day. One thing we must understand is that during the time of the writing of these letters and Gospels the majority of the population was illiterate. Those who could read and write Greek were few. These were the people who were most likely the teachers and preachers within the body of Christ. Therefore their time would be spent serving the body of believers by teaching them the word of God. So that their renumeration’s should no longer come from necessarily their own business pursuits but from the body of believers they were serving. Now how much should they get? They should get enough to meet their needs so they wouldn’t have to do secular work. And in some cases that would include rent not a mortgage. (Acts 28:30) However, they shouldn’t get more than that.

Some quote the passage, “the worker is worthy of his support” (Matthew 10:7-10) but they fail to include what Jesus said in the sentence before where he says freely you have received freely give. Jesus wasn’t talking about renumeration’s for preaching the gospel message. If we read that passage in its context it was about their needs being met and nothing more.




Thursday, January 15, 2015

The New Adam

A New Adam

Modern people believe the problem with humans is a lack of information and a lack of time to handle the information already available. Given sufficient money, equipment and time for investigation, and a powerful enough computer to handle the data, human’s problems will be isolated, analyzed and solved. Then we can have a New Adam.  Ray Kurzweil states that we are the only species that goes beyond our limitations - "we didn't stay in the caves, we didn't stay on the planet, and we're not going to stay with the limitations of our biology". He is quoted as saying "I think people are fooling themselves when they say they have accepted death". Therefore all the problems that plague humanity, internally such as corruption, greed, immorality, disease and the external problems of the environment, society which bring us the ultimate tragedy death, can be solved through physical material means.  

Essentially, the model for the so-called scientific solution to humanities problems is the machine, for human beings are considered merely a highly intricate a biological, electro-chemical machine. Human’s problems are the results of mechanical failure. If the parts can be corrected and restored to wholeness, the machine will function properly and people will be what they should be. How they define this “should be” no one modern person knows. If we accept the premise that human beings are merely machines, and it's not far off to call such a reconstituted and perfectly operating machine a "new Adam," even though some of us would prefer the old one.

If the thinking of modern man is correct in assuming that all peoples actions are the results of some sort of chemical or physical process and that there is no "inner self" to control the way in which the mind and body will react to stimuli, then people are in fact a machine. Modern man then can say from a “scientific” point of view that a person is not a body with a person inside, but of a body which is a person in the sense that it displays a complex collection of behavior. This kind of conclusion for transforming people relies on this mechanical materialistic conception of human nature. If we change humanities external and internal environments in such a way we can bring about changes in humanity itself. The goals seem worthy enough so that we can have a world in which people live without quarreling, enjoy themselves and contribute to this enjoyment of others in art, music, literature, games and not dying. Were we don't pollute the environment, etc. However, the question is whether in such a mechanical transformation humanity can retain any freedom or dignity.

Within the human frame, is there anything left we can still call "human"? If we abandon the notion of a "self" or an "ego" or a “soul”, which stands above and beyond the machinery of the body/mind complex, people are nothing but robots. Now whether the robot functions poorly (as humans now seems to do) or perfectly, they are still a robot. It's simply the difference between a rickety Model T and a finely tuned Lamborghini.

The Great Universe at Large

Most modern people, certainly most university students are not at all impressed with the scientific transformation of man. In fact the opposite is closer: Many young people are living under a postmodern deconstructive subjective frame of mind. Were the universe in which we live in is not the only one so let’s go find another. The way to that universe is through drugs or some form of esoteric religion which open up "doors of perception" and allow some kind of Universal Mind to flow into a person’s mind. We see this when people today refer to the Universe as something that will respond or act in your favor or bring about some kind of cosmic justice. This kind of thinking can also be seen in Eastern mysticism. However, drugs are a shortcut that provides instant visionary experience; instant transformation of man.

But this way of solving the problems of humanity, that is, escaping from the problems of existence in the present universe and participating in the joyous vision of another one has its problems also. One thing, the model on which the solution works is not too different from the scientific model. That is, people are still primarily conceived of as a machine: One is a happy material entity or a sad one depending upon whether they know how to "press their own buttons”.  The difference is that here the emphasis is on people’s interior feelings and visions rather than on their objective, metaphysical existence in relation to the world they really exist in.

We begin to get this metaphysical notion that after death a person’s disembodied “essences” continues in this impersonal Universal Mind. Therefore, this radical transformation is a mixture of the mechanical and the mystical ideas of mankind. That is, by mechanical means a person can be radically transformed or at least helped along the way to a state of mystical union with the Universe.
The problem here is that union with the impersonal is nothing but a surrendering of individual personality or self. While this has proved attractive to the East, it remains a great obstacle to Western thought who correctly sees that loss of personality, of self, of individuality, is just the reverse of what people need - what will truly fulfill a person and give them eternal joy. We want to remain ourselves.

Should We Get Rid of Ourselves

The issue is this: If a person is so depersonalized by being reduced to a robot, or absorbed into an impersonal Universe are they still human?

Maybe humanity should get rid of itself. Of course. If it can. However, people have something in themselves which they intuit that it’s important to continue. Something that deserves to go on. It is something that has to go on, and we just know it. The spirit feels cheated, outraged, defiled, corrupted, fragmented, and injured. Still it knows what it knows, and this knowledge cannot be gotten rid of. The spirit knows that its growth is the real aim of existence. This seem right. Besides, humans cannot be something else.

To those who would want to transform humanity, that is precisely the point being challenged. Some say that because of the incredible plasticity of the human nature, instinctual structure can be changed. People are so bound by their society and by their cultural environment that even their needs must undergo a qualitative change if they are to be transformed into something worthy of being called a human. The People who are to determine what those needs should be are a select few, an elite, who somehow know what people truly should be.

All schemes for a radical transformation of humanity have difficulty at this point. If humanity is not yet what they should be, how do we know what they should be? If there has never been a perfect person from whom we could derive our notions of perfection, how will we recognize perfection, let alone produce it? It is a commonplace that all of the utopias constructed by philosophers and visionaries from Plato through Thomas More to Samuel Butler and Aldous Huxley are really dystopias, hells to anyone except the utopia maker himself. We see these ideas in “The Giver”, “Island” and “Brave New World.”  No one seems to be able to convince anyone else that their private vision of a perfect world is in fact so perfect. We do well, therefore, to look at the fact that the perfect human is seen three times in the short space of two verses in the bible. (Gen. 1:26·27).

Then God said, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

The image of God in humans includes at least the following:

(1) Personality. The capacity for self-reflection (knowing one's self as a self) and self-determination (the freedom to choose between various courses of action),

(2) Intelligence. The capacity for reason and knowledge.

(3) Morality. The capacity for understanding and sensing good and evil.

(4) Companionability or social capacity. This is human's characteristic and fundamental
desire and need for human companionship, community, especially represented by the "male and female" aspect.

(5) Creativity. The ability to imagine new things or to endow old things with human significance.

(6) Spirituality. The need and desire to relate personally to God.

This is a human being in their essence. Anything less is a corruption or a reduction. Furthermore, when humans were created they were perfectly good. And their goodness consisted in being what God wanted them to be, a being created in the image of God and acting out that nature in their daily life. The tragedy, of course, is that they did not stay that way.

The Image of God Shattered

Humans were created in the image of God and given the freedom to remain or not to remain in that image. However, they chose to disobey their Creator at the only point where the Creator put down limitations. This is the essence of the story of the Fall. Humans chose to eat the fruit God had forbidden them to eat, and hence they violated the personal relationship that they had with their Creator. Humans have thus set themselves up as autonomous self-serving beings, navigators of their own way of life. They have chosen to act as if they had an existence independent from God. But that is precisely what they do not have, for they were created by God, brought into existence by another.
The result of this act of rebellion was death for Adam and Eve. And their death has involved for subsequent generations long centuries of personal, social and natural turmoil with God, each other and their environment. Essentially in the Fall the image of God in people was shattered in all its aspects.

(1) In personality, humans lost their capacity to know themselves accurately and to determine their own course of action freely in response to their intelligence.

(2) Their intelligence, itself, became impaired and people can no longer gain a fully accurate knowledge of the world around them nor are they able to reason without constantly falling into error.

(3) Morally, they became less able to discern good and evil.

(4) Socially, they began to exploit they fellow humans; passionate physical love turned to lust. People became and are stepping stone for other people’s personal agendas.

(5) Creatively, their imagination became separated from reality.

(6) Spiritually their relation to God was broken and they ran from contact with him.

The vacuum created by this string of consequences is ominous indeed. Theologians have summed it up this way: Humanity has become alienated from God, from others, from nature and even from itself.

Here the Christian conception of humanity as they now are and the views of others begin to converge. All of them agree that humanity today is in very bad shape. People need a radical transformation.
Are humans therefore in need of being made into something new, something beyond humanity? Not if it means obliterating their personality.

The Image of God Repaired

The Christian approach avoids that problem because it recognizes that humans were originally created perfectly good and that they have fallen through their own actions. Unlike modern people of science and philosophy today, who would remake people into something other than themselves (through evolution or self-transcendence), the Christian believes that the transformation begins with a restoration to what they essentially were.

The New Testament talks about redemption, regeneration, and restoration, all terms which imply a coming back to something that was there before, or potentially there before. Paul, for example, says that people can "put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge
after the image of its creator" (Col. 3: 10).

As we begin to live as Christians, we are "being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). The primary difference between a person fallen and a person reborn is, therefore, that the reborn person is being restored and reoriented on their way to completion. They are a person on their way to becoming a full human being, a full reflection of what God intended them to be when He created humans in His image.

People restored to fellowship with God is not the last stage. Not only is Christian person being changed "from one degree of glory to another," but they are eventually going to be completely transformed for an existence beyond the grave. Here is where the concept of the resurrection of the body plays so large a part in Christian thought.

For the materialistic naturalist, death ends personal existence. For the Eastern mystic, the soul makes its journey hopefully and eventually to its absorption into the impersonal Universe. But for the Christian, being created in the image of God means having personality and individuality and keeping it forever. Individual people are significant far into eternity. Furthermore, a person does not exist merely as a disembodied soul but as a resurrected perfectly unified being. Paul spends a long section in one of his letters (1 Cor. 15) emphasizing and reemphasizing the importance of the resurrection of the body.

Prerequisites for Transformation

All of this can come about because of God's free favor to all people in sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue humanity by his death on the cross, paying the penalty for man's rebellion against God. And yet radical transformation is not automatic. It is not a natural result of being human. For any person who would like to be transformed, there are several prerequisites.

First, each person needs to acknowledge their dependence on God; he must give up trying to be self-servingly autonomous, for they never have been autonomous and they never can be.

Second, each person must admit that they are "fallen," that is, in personal rebellion against God. A sinner in need. If we humble ourselves in the sight of the LORD He will lift you up.

Third, they must rely on God alone to bring them back into fellowship with Him. They must not think that the restoration can begin with them or that they can add anything to what the love of God in Christ has already done for them. You cannot pour new wine into old wine-skins.

Finally, they must relinquish their own continued lordship over themselves, accepting Jesus
Christ as both Lord and Liberator. They must repent, turn away from a self-driven life and turn toward a Jesus centered life.

The transformed life, the life of personal freedom to be, to love, to communicate, to create, is the life lived on the terms of the Lord of the Universe. For God is himself the ultimate Personal and is therefore a sufficient means for human freedom and personality. It was in his image that people were created; it is in his image that people are to be restored; it is in his image that people are to find complete personal fulfillment.

There is, to be sure, much more to be said about the radical transformation offered in Christ. Those whose appetite is stimulated by what has been said will find the New Testament especially helpful. The Gospel of John was in fact written in order to explain the new life and how it can be acquired. What is important here is just this: In Christ there is a way out of the mess we have made of both our personal and our corporate lives.


The radical transformation of humanity is an absolute necessity. The only question is which kind of radical transformation it will be: a naturalistic transformation, a mechanically induced spiritual transformation, or the radical restoration of humanity back into the image of God and the subsequent transformation into a purified personality in fellowship with God and God's people. Only the latter is based on the notion of humans as beings who are significant because they are essentially broken image bearers of God and first needs a restoration to original dignity. Only that notion retains in humans the essential elements of humanity. We can thus become what we truly were meant to be, radically transformed, but more “US” than ever before. 

Thank you James Sire

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Christianity Today is Nothing but Institutionalized Religion.

Isaiah 40:3-5 (NIV)
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
This is such a wonderful proclamation. The bible teaches us this was fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist in regards to his preaching about Jesus Christ to the people of Israel. (Luke 3:3-6) It’s a beautiful picture being painted for all mankind. When you raise a valley up and lower a mountain down you have a plain. Then after the plain is created it is cleared.  The removing of obstacles like a crooked road or terrain features like bolder and vegetation. What is left is a smooth flat surface. It is here all people will be able to see clearly who God is and how to have a relationship with Him in the person of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

In the world, at the time of John the Baptist and Jesus’ earthly ministry access to God was only available to the average everyday person through the institutionalized religion of the day. For the Jew it was through the Levitical priesthood and temple protocols. During Jesus time this process became corrupt. Though corruption to this institution was not unfamiliar. We see Jesus’ outburst against it when he cleared the temple area during a couple of Jewish festival periods. There were people that were considered above others and then there were people who were considered lower than others when it came to having a relationship or gaining access to God. The system became corrupt because of a lust for money and the cravings of people wanting to have power and status over others in order to satisfy their own personal agendas. (Luke 20:45-47) Jesus said, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52 (NIV) and again in Matthew, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13 (NIV)

The religious leaders of the time lost sight of their primary purpose which was to prepare the people to recognize the coming of the Messiah and their need for him in more than a physical way. Jesus came to clean house and do away with the religious systems of mankind. (Heb 8:13) He also came to fulfill the requirement and prophecies of the Old Covenant. He came to create a level playing field. Were there would not be one person above another. That there would not be obstacles in the way of people knowing God, have a relationship with God and finding forgiveness and a new life. He came to do away with the corruption that had permeated the religion of the day. Like Isaiah said concerning Jesus, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

However, creating a level playing field didn't last very long. Within a few hundred years after Pentecost these same obstacles, these same mountains, these same valleys and these same crooked paths were recreated. What we call the “church” today is nothing more than what has been handed down to us by those that were taught the same thing, institutionalized religion. There is nothing but hierarchies in local churches and denominations today. There is clergy and then there are the laity. We have a senior pastor and their assistant pastors, staff and directors, then everyone else. There is one rules them all mind set. We have popes, bishops, General Superintendents or whatever man-made title or positions you want. Then you have a multiple of level under them.

The disciples as they were following Jesus around before his crucifixion would have loved the way we do church today however Jesus taught them not to pursue or even set themselves up to be like this. In Matthew there is a great illustration that brings this point home.

“Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.  “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don't know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.  Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”  When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28 (NIV)

This teaching was so important to the Lord that he made sure the Holy Spirit had in record again in Mark 10:35-45. John and James wanted to get the upper hand on the other disciples by trying to position themselves above the rest. They wanted to build their own little mountain and put the other guys on the sides of the mountain which would put other people eventually in a valley. And then the other disciple got mad at James and John probably because they got beat to the punch. However, Jesus didn't want them to recreate what he came to do away with. Jesus reemphasized this point again. We see this later on in Matthew were Jesus says, “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12 (NIV)

I remember when I first became a Christian, I went to an after church reception. I approach the pastor whose name was Glen and asked him if I could call him Glen. He said No and told me to call him Pastor Glen. I remember feeling like a tire that had just been deflated by a knife. As a brand new Christian I thought we were all one in Christ. We were one body and no part was more important than another. That no one was above another and I remembered the passage in Matthew were Jesus told his disciples not too demand to be called by a title. Because when you start with wanting a title and the recognition that come with it, you open the door to creating a mountain to stand on which elevates you above others. This is what the world does and we are to not be like the world. James says, “don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?”

Today in local churches you have people signing covenant type contracts. First I don’t see one example of this in the New Testament. Second some of these covenants Jesus couldn't even be a member of the “church”. Within the covenant a member is prohibited from drinking wine. Third this creates different classes of believers. In other words hills and valleys.

Being a pastor within the body of Christ is a gift. It is when this gift turns into a position you begin to have an institutionalized religion. And when you have an institutionalized religion you depart from the path of authentic Christianity. Paul says in Ephesians, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”…It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13 (NIV) When these gifts become positions and titles you give the devil a foothold and the message of the cross just becomes another man-made religion instead to a supernatural life changing force that is meant to bring people closer to God and each other and not put obstacles in the way of people growing in their relationship with Jesus.

Someone might say what about the references in the New Testament about leaders, elders and deacons? Well what about them I’d say? Someone has to be in front of others when it comes to a personal relationship with God in Jesus. Someone in Christ for 20 year should be a leader to someone coming to Christ today. That has nothing to do with what authentic Christianity should look like. The leaders should reflect what Jesus taught us about how we are to view one another and live as a community of believers. Not with titles and institutionalized positions but as servants that do not elevate themselves over others. That a body of believers doesn't have just one person called a pastor that’s in charge of the direction of a particular group of believers. A pastor is but one part of many. There should be a collection of elders that serve a body of believer to make sure the message of the gospel is preached, that false doctrine is not taught, the saints are equip to live a life that imitates Christ within their particular spheres of influence and that the needs of others within the body are met. This is done by them utilizing the gifts of God collectively, with no one person more important than another. 1 Corinthians 12:25 (NIV) “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

A great illustration of this is seen in 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV) where Paul says, “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” There is not just one or two people taking center stage, so to speak, but all are given the opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives for the edification on the body.

How would this work? When we share what God is doing in our lives this is called TESTIFYING. If we take the first four letter of this word we can create an acronym that would help to facilitate this orderliness, TEST.

The first “T” would stand for timely. Meaning that what God is doing in your life should be recent. Within 2 weeks. Not 2 years ago. Past experience can be share but in a different place and time.

“E” stands for encouraging. Whatever you are bringing should be uplifting not depressing. If you need prayer or are having a difficult time with something in your life, this can take place at a different time and different place then this time of testifying.

“S” stands for short. This means no longer than five minutes. We must always be mindful of those around us that others also want to share and time is always of the essence.

The second “T” stand for truthful. We just can’t make things up because we want to sound spiritual. Or we think we need to say something in order to belong. After we are Christians and an essential part of being a follower of Jesus is honesty.

Then if time permits one or two people teach. Nothing more than 15 minutes a piece. Now all of this is but a guide not something that is hard and set because the Holy Spirit must move according to his purposes however we must also remember He did direct Paul to give us this instruction about orderly worship also.  



Saturday, January 10, 2015

What do the signs of a follower of Jesus look like?

Jesus came to this earth for more than just one reason. However, one of those reason was to be an example. He came here to show us the Father. To show us God. He also came here to take the condemnation we deserve for violating Gods law. What the bible describes as SIN. And that condemnation for violating Gods law is death. For the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). So His death on the cross, the penalty of execution for a criminal, a law breaker, was Gods way of paying our wages we owed. It was on the cross that ALL the sins of humanity were laid on Jesus which resulted in Jesus experiencing ALL the wrath of God or judgment that was due us. This also was the beginning of the end of the destructive works of the Devil.  And while He went about His ministry, along the way He also gathered up people to follow Him - called disciples.


The gospels tell us that Jesus was popular. ‘Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.’ (Matthew 4:25 NIV)  “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus,” (Luke 14:25 NIV). Yet He told them, " “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26, 27). He also said, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).

He turned to the crowds that were following Him and three times He said to them, “... cannot be my disciple," " ... cannot be my disciple," " ... cannot be my disciple." In other words He was saying, "I am not looking for crowds; I'm looking for disciples."
How do you recognize a disciple? What does he or she look like? What are their characteristics? Are you a disciple? Am I a disciple?
There are a few passages in the Scripture having to do with the characteristics of a disciple. They can conveniently be boiled down to four signs of discipleship. When you see these four, you have a disciple.

RECOGNIZING WHO GOD IS AND WHO YOU ARE

God is perfect, just, and holy and loves His creation. The Bible teaches that God is opposed to sin and evil, that he is holy and righteous.  Humanity is desperately wicked, not only as a whole but right down to each individual, apart from Jesus. We know that eventually He will quarantine evil in perfect justice from good when he creates the New Heaven and Earth (Rev. 21).
 
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. …. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…. “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)

At that time, God will physically separate those who love him from those who don’t. Now those that love Him will also hate sin not only in the world around them but also within themselves. Those who love him will no longer be in the presence of sin, when he comes again to reign on earth, from that point forward. Until then, God tolerates the presence of sin in order to accomplish his purposes with mankind. Because if God truly could not be in the presence of sin, none of us would be here! It’s the old adage, “Why doesn’t God stop all the things that cause evil?” Then the question that must follow, “Are you ready for him to start with you?” “Are you ready to be turned to dust?” We are broken and full of sin.

However, in this world and even within Christian circles today they want to downplay the utter sinfulness of people. The world doesn’t want to hear how really bad off they are. When Adam and Eve first rejected Gods love and sinned against him, the eternal life they were to experience in their bodies was done away with. God told them that “since from it (the ground) you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:19) We are just bags of dirt. I describe our condition to a young minister this way and he was offended by this description. Modern day preachers want to tickle the ears of this politically correct thinking unbelieving generation by telling them they are masterpieces just waiting to be cleaned up. However, God does want to take these bags of dirt and turn them into bags of gold. The bible calls this a new creation. The only people that had the perfect image of God as a description of them were Adam and Eve and Jesus. That imagine was shattered when our first parent rebelled against God. The rest of humanity that followed were sinners, born as darkness in need of a savior to bring them into the light. “for you were formerly darkness” (Eph 5:8), “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (Rom 3:10-11).

You here people who want to justify themselves as not being that bad or justify why someone else really isn’t that bad by saying things like “They really have a good heart.” Or “I have a good heart.” However the bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) It’s tragic when you have ministers nodding in agreement with people that make these kind of statements.

Jesus said it was the person that had the correct evaluation of themselves and a correct view of God that had the beginnings of being a disciple of his.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV)

Jesus reminded us of this condition. Most people want to hide from it. When he was invited over to a religious person’s home one day for a meal Jesus paints a picture that drives this point home.
“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
 “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:36-47 NIV)

It’s this inability of people to except the truth of how wretched they really are and of Christians, whether ministers or non-ministers, to share this necessary truth with those that need the gift of eternal life, that brings into question ones commitment to being a disciple of Jesus by their love and need for Him and that deep understanding of how wretched we are apart from him. Like Jesus, Love tells the truth no matter how uncomfortable it may make you or your hearers. This is a sign in the life of a believer. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV)

IDENTIFIED WITH CHRIST

A second sign of a disciple is that they are a person who is identified with Jesus Christ. It is someone who will openly admit that he belongs to Christ. In the New Testament one of the first outward expressions of an individual to show the public at large that they are a follower of Jesus Christ was baptism. Baptism is an outward demonstration of an inward statement that a person has turned away from a sin filled, God rejecting, self-centered life to a commitment of living a life in the steps and way of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

There is this contemporary story of a man, which was probably similar to the first follower of Jesus Christ of a Jewish man led to Christ in Dallas. A few weeks later a friend told another Jewish man, a non-Christian, about the first one. Immediately the second man asked, "Has he been baptized yet?" This friend said, "No, he hasn't," he replied, "Well, he'll never last." It was later, when the first Jew was baptized, that his family cut him off because had made open identification with Jesus Christ.
“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." (Romans 10:9, 10). An open identification with Jesus Christ. Jesus promised, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32).

On one occasion Jesus asked the disciples, “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ. (Mark 8:29). It seems everything in His ministry led up to this.
But the thing that strikes me is that then “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." (Mark 8:31). A little later He called the multitude and His disciples to Him and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me… If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34, 38).

I was at this church planting seminar when these to young ordained ministers were pitching there idea of opening up a place where people could gather in a social environment and also have rooms in this place for people to do work for school or business. When they were asked about how the gospel message would be shared in this environment one of the minister said, “We’d be incognito about that. After all Jesus was telling people all the time not to tell other what he had done for them.”

I was thinking were did this person get his training as a disciple of Jesus Christ? How tortured does someone have to be inside to take scripture out of its context to justify trying to be a professed follower of Jesus Christ without telling people about Jesus? Or what even worse is that somehow they thought they were going to set up some kind of a bait and switch atmosphere which would be even worse because that is nothing but dishonestly and the ways of the world.

There is this story about a business man that went forward at a Billy Graham crusade to receive Jesus. The following Sunday night he went to a church that he sometimes attended. After the service he walked up to one of the leading elders in this church and told him, "I was at the Billy Graham meeting last week out at the ball park. I went forward and received Christ."
"I heard about it and I am delighted," the elder replied. Then the businessman asked the elder, "How long have you and I been associated in business?"
"About 23 years, I think."
"Have you known Christ as your Savior all those years?" the man asked the elder.
"Yes, I have," he answered.
"Well, I don't remember your ever speaking to me about Jesus during those years," the man said. The elder hung his head, and the man continued, "I have thought highly of you. In fact, I
thought so highly of you that I felt if anyone could be as fine a man as you and not be a Christian, then I didn't have to be a Christian either."
This elder had lived a good life in front of his friend, but he had not taken the added step of
openly identifying with Jesus, who enabled him to live that kind of life. Here was a fine man,
who had the first sign but he did not have this second sign of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus asks you to deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Him, what do you think it means? Whatever else it means, I think it means to be identified with Christ, not only when it's popular but when it's unpopular. Not only when it's the thing to do but when it
seems as if it's not the thing to do. I like the way the New English Bible puts Revelation 1:9. John writes, "I was on the island called Patmos because I had preached God's Word and borne
my testimony to Jesus."

Do you take any opportunity to admit that you are a follower of Jesus Christ? Why not determine that at the first opportunity this week you will quietly, graciously, but openly identify yourself with Jesus Christ? I rarely tell people I’m a Christian now a day because this can mean so many different things to people in our culture. That really has nothing to do with what the bible teaches us about what a real Christian is. A person can say they’re an American and the label of Christian is attached. The same goes for an institutionalize religious affiliation like Mormon or Jehovah Witness. I usually tell people I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe this is an undeniable sign of a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

OBEDIENT TO THE WORD

A disciple is not only a believer who is visibly identified with the person of Christ, he is also
obedient to the Word of Christ, to the Scriptures. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

"Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples." (John 8:31). In other words, if you don’t let go of it and you apply it to your life, then you are my disciple.

Luke records what happened one day when a crowd of people listening to Jesus preach. One woman in the crowd, as she listened to Jesus, something welled up within her. Perhaps she had a son who was wayward, and as she looked at Jesus and she wished her son were like Him. Or maybe she had never had a son and had always wanted to have one. Anyway she spoke up, she shouted out, and said, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” (Luke 11:27).  Jesus' answer to her is noteworthy. He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28). That’s the true blessing, to hear what God has to say and to do it.

Jesus talks to this man who wants eternal life. (Matthew 19:16-22) The man claims to believe in God and follow Gods ways. However, when Jesus exposes his halfhearted commitment the man walks away sad.  The man spoke a good game but when it came down to really doing what God wanted his words proved to be empty.

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and ‘love your neighbor as yourself. '” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

To be really happy you need to go all the way in your commitment to receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior. And this means to be obedient to the Word of Christ.

Obedience is necessary also for strength of commitment. The greatest sermon ever preached was the Sermon on the Mount. We need to take note of how Jesus concluded it. He said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27).

What made the difference between the wise man and the foolish man? It wasn't knowledge, because they both heard the same sermon. They went to the same conference; they had the same
knowledge. They both heard the Word. The both read the same bible. Not only that, they had the same circumstances. It says that the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house of the wise man. The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house of the foolish man. The circumstances were the same.

One couldn't say, "Well, you don't know how tough it is where I come from." "Well, you don't know what kind of a family life I've got." "You don't know how I suffer down at work." It wasn't their circumstances that made the difference. One thing made the difference between wisdom and foolishness. One obeyed the Word; the other one did not.

Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  (John 14:21). What does that mean? It means Jesus will make Himself real to him or her. To whom? To the one who has His Word and keeps it.

Here’s an illustration of the truth that a disciple must be obedient to the Word of Christ is in these words of Jesus, " “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. “(Matthew 5:23, 24).

When was the last time you went and made something right with someone you wronged? When did you admit to your wife/husband or your children that your outburst of anger was sin? It's amazing to me when couples say that neither one has ever asked forgiveness of the other. If you don't find some times when you've got to make some things right, you're about ready for heaven right now. A disciple has a very sensitive conscience when it comes to offense toward God and people.

Someone might say "I can’t go into full time ministry?"

That’s right, they don’t because as a disciple of Jesus Christ we are always full time ministers’ right where we are at. Remember when Jesus called his first disciples along the shores of the Sea of Galilee? It says Jesus called and they dropped their nets and followed him. Meaning they left their business, there source of income for themselves and probably some family members that dependent on them. However, I believe, even though Jesus wants all people to follow him, he doesn't ask everyone to drop their nets. He wants people to stay where they are at and to be a light to those in their sphere of influence. (Unless you are working in a sinful business)  Right where you live. Your neighborhood. Where you go to school. Your work place. I find that God usually leads you to the next step after you take this one. That's where you start.

I'm not speaking of going to the mission field or some full time ministry job because you're so sick and tired of the office you can't stand it, or because the boss has bugged you for years and any change would be an improvement. I'm speaking of obedience to the Word of Christ, wherever it may lead and when the going is tough. That's a sign of a disciple.

After Moses died, Joshua had the job of taking about 2 million people into the Promised Land. That included women, children and livestock. God gave him some instructions. You'd think the Lord would say, "Now, look, here's how you'd handle this problem, here's how you do this, here's how you do that." But, no. He said, "Joshua, one thing above all else is going to take a lot of courage, and it's not leading all these people and facing all the enemies that are in the land. That isn't what's going to take courage." But, “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go." (Joshua 1:7).

You may think it doesn't take courage to be obedient to the Word of God. But I wonder how
obedient we really are to the Word. We live in a Christ rejecting world, and anyone who is going
to live in obedience to the ways of Jesus is going to come into conflict with it. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22 NIV) That's how you recognize a disciple. They do more than hear the Word. They puts into practice what they've heard and at the same time they don’t take credit but point to Him that deserves all the credit, Jesus Christ the Son of God, God the son. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)

We need to make up our minds that God helping us with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are going to be obedient to the Word of Christ. That's a sign of a disciple. They seek to follow the Bible and do what it says no matter what.

FRUITFUL FOR CHRIST

A disciple is someone who understands who God is and who they are before him. Second they openly identified with the person of Jesus Christ. Third, they are obedient to the Word of Christ. And fourth, they are bearing fruit in the work of Christ. "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:8).

Now it seems to me that there are two kinds of fruit here. First, the fruit of character, the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

And second, there's fruit by way of influencing the lives of others for Christ. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)  "Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:13, 14 NIV)
Jesus sent out the twelve two by two. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. They went out and preached that men should repent. They cast out demons and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them. "Do you think Judas did this? Do you think Judas went out and preached to people to repent? Do you think Judas cast out demons and healed the sick?"

Some feel they can prove that Judas was never saved. Let's assume they're right. Did Judas then preach that people should repent? Did he cast out demons? Did he heal the sick? Could he have?
Look at Jesus' words: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'  (Matthew 7:22, 23)

My point was that we get so carried away with the spectacular that we think the spectacular is the supreme evidence that we are real disciples or Spirit-filled. But the real evidence is shown in our character, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We're considering here the character of a disciple. It has been said that the Apostle Paul before he was converted, would pray something like this every day, "God, I thank You that I am not a Gentile, that I am not a slave and that I am not a woman." But look at how God changed his attitude. In his first letter he wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28). Here is evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in the way of character.

This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It includes one's whole attitude, outlook, character and relationship to others. By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you can work great miracles, give and be involved with charities or expound on scripture with great skill? No. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35).

When Jesus talked about His ministry and what He came to do, He quoted from Isaiah 61:1, 3, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners... to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

Take this world in which we live with all of its attractiveness, its celebrity and its appearance. Strip all of this away, and how would you characterize the real world underneath? Brokenhearted, captive, bound, anxious, sad, depressed.

A disciple is one who gets involved in that kind of world, who is bearing fruit in the work
of Jesus Christ. He shows the fruit of the Spirit in a Christ like character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. How we need that in the world in which we live!

THE GREATEST IS LOVE

What did Jesus say was the greatest identifying mark of all in a disciple? Love. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples,” if you do what? "if you love one another."

One of the greatest illustrations of this was on the television special "James Emory Bond.” It was an entire one-hour interview with a black man who was an ex-truck driver. He was in his seventies at the time of the interview. Apparently he lived in Baltimore. One night he watched a panel discussion with some of the city leaders, mayor, and chief of police and others on television. They discussed the race and juvenile delinquency problems in Baltimore. As he watched, his heart was really moved.
The next day he went down to the television station. He wanted to talk to somebody because he had been so moved by their discussion. He said he knew the answer, but he didn't know whom to tell. At the station they had the good sense not only to interview him, but also to videotape it. All you saw was this grey-haired gentleman as he answered questions coming from off camera.

He said, among other things, that when he was a young fellow growing up on the edge of Baltimore, the white boys would throw rocks at him as he was on his way to school. He began to hate white people. As a young man he started working as a truck driver. One morning when he saw the milk truck go by, he thought how nice it would be if he could just have a little milk before he went to work in the morning.

He stopped the milkman, who was a white man, one day and asked him if he would leave
him a quart of milk. He said, "No, I don't deliver milk to niggers."

"So," Bond said, "I called up the milk company, and I asked the man I talked with if this was true, that they didn't give milk to black people. He said, 'No, that's not right. We do deliver milk to black people, and we'll see that he delivers the milk.'

"So," he said, "the milk came, a quart each morning. Several weeks went by and I realized that he wasn't leaving me a bill, and I wanted to pay for it. So I stopped him one morning and said, 'I want you to give me a bill so I can pay for this.' And the milkman said, 'I don't take money from niggers.' 
So I said, 'Well, I've got to pay you, you've just got to let me pay you.'

"'Well,' the milkman said, 'tell you what you do. You put the money on the fence post.' "

James Emory Bond said, "I thought I'd have a little fun with him, so I said, 'Now I won't feel like paid you unless I put it in your hand.' 'No sir,' he said, 'put it on the post.' So I said, 'OK.' And I put it on the post. When the milkman reached out to take the change, I just laid my hand on top of his. And he jerked it away."

Then he said, "Later on, one of God's servants by the name of Billy Sunday came to our town, and he told how Jesus Christ died on the cross to take away man's sin and his enmity of heart toward his fellowman. As I heard that, I realized that I needed this, and I walked the sawdust trail. And you know, God took the hate out of my heart for the white man. He put love there."

Apparently a few days later, unknown to him, the milkman went to hear Billy Sunday. He went forward in the meeting, received Christ, and a couple days later pulled up in front of James Emory Bond's little place. With tears streaming down his face, he apologized for the way he had treated him. And this dear old black man said, "I have loved him, and he has loved me ever since."

Now that's what discipleship means. There is a sign of a disciple. Bearing fruit in the work of Jesus Christ. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” When we begin to see more disciples sprinkled around America and around the world, what a difference it will make! Real genuine disciples who will turn the world upside down. There are many already, and we ought to be praying for them.

But not only is there the fruit of Christ like character, but also the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of others. Jesus said, " You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (John 15:16).

Go and produce fruit. Paul wrote to the Romans of his desire, “that I might have a harvest among you," (Romans 1: 13). He meant lives influenced for Jesus.

Let's ask ourselves:
Am I a true disciple?
Am I willing to be openly identified with the person of Jesus Christ?
Am I seeking to be obedient to the Word of Christ in my everyday life?
Am I bearing fruit in the work of Jesus Christ, by way of Christ like character and by influencing the lives of others?

I want to be a disciple. I want to have these signs and characteristics in my life. The only thing I'd like to do beyond that is to help make disciples and to get them to help make others. That’s what Jesus wants done.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

Thank you Lorne Sanny