Christmas Me 11-26-18

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It’s hard to believe Christmas is less than a month away. One of my favorite Christmas stories, obviously other than the actual Christmas story, is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Many know that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, but few know the personal cost Dickens took to get his message out. Dickens began writing his “little carol” in October 1843 finishing it by the end of November in time to be published for Christmas with illustrations and all. He fought with his publishers to get the book printed and distributed. Finally, Dickens himself financed the publishing of the book, ordering lavish binding, gilt edging, and hand-colored illustrations. In spite of the significant cost, he insisted on setting the price at 5 shillings so that everyone could afford it. In the first few days of its release, the book sold six thousand copies (a tremendous amount in the 1800’s), and its popularity continues to grow today.

Dickens wrote his story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean-spirited man, to show how the power of Christ can transform our lives, as well as, use the transformed to bring significant change to the world. God offers transformation to each of us, but we must receive it. Our response to Christmas (meaning the celebration of Christ), our response to Christ determines whether or not we will experience Christ’s love and power through salvation in Him and transformation by His Spirit.

In one of the opening scenes of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge responds to Christ as a humbug, as something designed to deceive or mislead. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, visits him at his office to invite him to Christmas dinner. Fred responds to Christ by treasuring the gift of life and pondering all the good blessings he received from the Lord. We also discover that Scrooge’s mistreated clerk Bob Cratchit responds to Christ with hope and a willingness to speak the truth of Christ’s love to others.

When we explore the true first Christmas account, we also discover a variety of responses to Christ. Herod the Great saw Christ as a rival and responded horrifically (Matt 2:1-3). Mary, Jesus’ mother, had received the news of Christ’s birth from an angel and from that moment ventured on an unexpected faith journey. When Jesus was born, Luke records, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Then, we have the shepherds who were the first recorded to hear of Christ’s birth. Upon hearing the news, they visit the Christ child. As they leave to return to the fields, we read they left, “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20).

I would pose the real question is not how others, whether fictional or real, respond to Christ, but how you and I will respond. Will we respond to Christ as a humbug, someone other than our loving Lord and Savior? Will we respond to Christ by treasuring the gift of life and pondering all the good blessings received from Him? Or, will we respond to Christ with hope and willingness to speak the truth of Christ’s love to others? I ask you: How will you respond to Christ this Christmas season?

I pray this Christmas you and I will receive Christ as Savior and share His love and message with others. I pray that our celebration of Christ will be infectious. It is worth whatever cost to get the good news out to everyone. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Show the Fruit of the Spirit 11-19-18

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Jesus said a disciple would bear fruit. Fruit bearing is not something that comes from merely trying hard. Jesus says the only way to bear eternal fruit is to stay close to Him. We are to be like a branch attached to a vine (see: John 15:5). If we endeavor to accomplish something apart from Christ, our efforts will produce absolutely nothing of eternal significance. Like the other marks, Christ presents as distinguishing His disciples, bearing fruit, is not something we merely will our self into accomplishing. Instead, it is the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. A follower of Christ who is experiencing God’s extravagant love and leadership will bear fruit.

A careful reading of John 15:1-9 reveals some useful insights. For instance, we discover in verse seven that a believer, whose mind is being transformed by God, can ask for anything and receive it. However, there is a crucial caveat. Such a believer must ask in Christ’s name in accordance with His character and for His glory. If a believer truly abides in Jesus, they will desire and will pray according to His words, and those prayers will be pleasing to Him.

We discover that Christ’s disciples glorify God by bearing fruit. Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). We often think about glorifying God as we sing praises to Him. This is true enough, but God calls us to glorify Him with more than words. A believer glorifies God when they bear much fruit for the advancement of His kingdom on earth.

The critical thing to note is that when the follower of Christ is connected to Him, it is God who makes the bearing of fruit possible. God makes it happen! This passage shows that God is glorified when people are brought into a right relationship with Him. These disciples will soon begin to “bear much fruit” in their lives.

Paul writes to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23). When a believer is under the control of the Holy Spirit the fruit of the Spirit evidences his or her life as Christ’s disciple.

The fruit of the Spirit is a result of the Holy Spirit working in the life of a believer. These fruits produce traits like those found in Jesus Christ. The fruit is not of any human origin, but the product resulting from Christ’s control of a person’s life. We cannot produce the fruit in our own strength. The fruit is produced when our life is joined with the Lord’s. We must know Him and walk in obedience with Him.

Growing in Christ (abiding in Him) takes studying and applying God’s Word, sharing our faith, and among other spiritual exercises prayer. Prayer is a dynamic dialogue with God that helps us grow in our relationship with Him. It is one way our will is molded into that of the Lord’s. We discover in Matthew 6:9-13 a lesson Jesus teaches His disciples on prayer. He actually gives an example of how to pray.

Someone once shared with me the acrostic (A.C.T.S.) to help guide me as I pray. I was told to remember that these are the acts of prayer. The “A” stands for adoration where we spend some time praising God. Be specific! The “C” stands for confession. Here we ask God to examine our hearts and deal with any sin issues. The “T” stands for thanksgiving. Spend some time thanking God for all he has done. Be personal! Finally, the “S” stands for supplication, where we intercede on behalf of our needs and the needs of others. We seek God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Recently I have been using a resource at blesseveryhome.com that allows me to adopt a portion of my neighbors to pray over. It sends me out a daily email with five neighbors I can pray for each day. It even gives me some suggestions on how to pray for them. It also encourages me to share the love and message of Christ with them. Here is the simple truth, it is impossible to grow in Christ (abiding in Him) and not partner with Him in His work and bear fruit.

The good news is that the fruit we are to bear as disciples of Jesus is not by our own effort, but the by-product of God working in us. No doubt one of the main purposes of the Christian life is to progressively allow the Holy Spirit to produce more and more of His fruit in our lives—and to let the Holy Spirit conquer the opposing sinful desires that linger form our old life or self. The fruit of the Spirit is what God desires our lives to exhibit and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, it is possible. This is a beautiful mark of a disciple.

Let’s encourage one another to abide in our Lord. I pray we will surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s leadership and by His power bear much fruit. When we partner with the Lord He does amazing work in and through us where God is glorified, we are blessed, and others benefit. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone!).

Express Love for Other Christians 11-13-18

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In the Gospels, Jesus shares the marks or qualities of those who are His disciples or His followers. One of these marks is to express love for other Christians. This mark, like the others, is not intended to bring about a guilt-driven self-willed determination to make them a reality. Such a path only leads to frustration and a diminished spirit. The path Christ invites us on is one where we join Him realizing that these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. Again, one such mark of a disciple is to express love for other Christians.

Jesus declared:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-45).

Jesus said that His disciples would express genuine love for one another. He describes this as a new command, which is interesting since this command is recorded way back in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. We read: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18). These words were shared with God’s people nearly 1,500 years before Christ spoke the command recorded by John. Why then does Jesus call this a new command? The reason Jesus calls this a new command is because Jesus’ own love and teaching deepen and transform this command. The newness is not the actual command, rather the newness is found in loving one another as Jesus loved His disciples. In light of Jesus’ subsequent death, “just as” implies a love that is even willing to lay down one’s life for another (see: 15:13). The challenging nature of this command is found in the fact that we are called to love others with the sacrificial love of God. Such love will serve to strengthen believers as well as attract unbelievers.

How would you define love? Some would describe love as a feeling, but it is really much more. Love as used in John 13:35 is an attitude that makes it known through actions. This kind of love gives when it’s not convenient. It gives when it hurts. This kind of love is hard to do and is only possible when a person receives Christ, being filled by His Spirit, therefore, knowing Christ’s love intimately and empowered to share it with others. It’s no wonder it will attract unbelievers and encourage Christ followers.

As we explore the New Testament, we discover that this love will lead us to serve one another (see: Gal 5:13). Such love brings about the confessing of our sins and praying for one another (see: James 5:16). This Spirit-empowered love will lead us to honor one another (see: Rom 12:10). A believer overflowing with the love of Christ bears with other believers (see: Eph 4:2). Such love leads to forgiving others (see: Eh 4:31-32), as well as, encouraging one another (see: 1 Thess 4:18). Such love leads us to unity (see: Eph 4:3).

John writes: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Christ exemplifies love. Jesus showed love by laying down his life for us. The greatest act of love is giving of oneself for the good of others. We do this through selflessly serving others. We must put the desires of others before our very own. Jesus clearly calls His disciples to this love.

I am honored to journey with each of you. I am asking the Lord to show me who someone may be that I need to love as Christ has loved me. I ask Him to help me demonstrate this extraordinary love by His Spirit’s power and leading. It is interesting that this extraordinary love Jesus describes as ordinary for His disciples. One of Crosswinds’ values is extravagant love. I pray this mark of a disciple will be ever-increasingly present in us as His Church. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Learn the Truth of God’s Word 11-5-18

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In the gospels, we discover qualities that Christ declares as marks of a disciple. These marks are the life-result of a God-directed grace-filled life. These marks are not the outcome of mere self-will, but of a believer who has experienced the effect of Christ’s finished work on the cross, thus bringing salvation while partnering with God in his or her personal faith journey. One such mark of a disciple is that she is committed to learning the truth of God’s Word.

Jesus proclaimed to a group of His followers: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). Simply stated Jesus said a disciple would accept and act in accordance with His Word. The follower of Christ walks according to scriptural principles, ones that he or she may or may not have possessed before they knew God. A disciple meditates on God’s word seeking to know God more and more and is committed to studying and applying His Word to their life.

Paul wrote to Timothy regarding Scripture:  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). When Paul writes that the Bible is “breathed out by God” he is explaining that the Bible is inspired by God as His very word. In the Bible, God communicates absolute truth. This truth includes things about Himself, people, and life. The Bible is useful in getting to know God better and helping us and others live the abundant life in Christ. When we study the Bible, we ought to let the Bible study us or as we seek to master God’s Word the goal is for God’s Word to master us.

The Bible was written to encourage us and offer hope (see: Rom 15:4). The Bible was not written by human will, but through the inspiration of God (see: 2 Peter 1:20-21). The simple truth is that if I don’t invest in my walk with God, I will get caught it the trap of duplication rather than incarnation. God is not calling any of us to merely act like Jesus, but to become like Him. This occurs, in part, when we experience God through His Word. No matter what discipline a pianist performs (jazz, blues, classical) they practice scales. Scales for the believer is time alone each day in God’s Word.

The ancient songwriter proclaims in Psalm 1:1-3 that a man or woman is blessed when he or she meditates on God’s Word. To meditate on Scripture is to consider the great things contained in it and its application to our life. The Bible contains sixty-six books. In these books are the life stories of four to five hundred leaders. It could be argued that some of the best mentors are these dead mentors because their lives are written down, and they always have time for every one of us. We have an excellent opportunity to explore life with these mentors. They have time for us, and God wants to use them to invest in us.

We must understand that God’s Word is the rule of our actions and a source of comfort for our lives. When we seek to study and apply the Bible, we ought to look for the S.P.E.C. (sin to avoid, promise to claim, example to follow, and command to obey) of truth found in the passage. Through the Spirit’s power and leading a believer values God’s Word and desires to walk in obedience.

Not only is God’s Word helpful to me, but also the best gift I can give to others is a consistent investment in my walk with God through leaning into His Word. The simple truth is when I engage Scripture I am blessed, but others benefit as well. A diet of Scripture is essential to living out God’s purpose and to do so in His power. Therefore, Jesus declares His follower, His disciple, will learn the truth of God’s Word.

It is a blessing to grow in Christ with each of you. Let’s encourage one another to invest time in God’s Word. As we do may we grow in knowing God and our ability to make Him known. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Press On In Following Jesus 10-29-18

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In the Gospels, Christ clearly states marks of His disciples – His followers. These marks are not meant to inspire a person to try to manufacture these marks through mere will. Such a journey only results in frustration and a quenched spirit. These marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One of these marks is to press on in following Christ.

Jesus proclaimed: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus said His disciple would follow Him. Believers follow Christ by imitating Him and obeying His commands. We are to deny self. Denying one’s self means to want what God wants more than anything else. To carry one’s cross means being willing to do anything God calls us to do.

In the Bible, we discover that both Paul and the writer of Hebrews use athletic imagery to explain what it means to follow Christ (see: Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 12:1-3). Specifically, the description is of a runner competing in a race.  A believer, like a runner, must not let anything take her eyes off the goal of knowing Christ, reflecting Christ and following Him. Like an athlete running a race, she is to keep her eyes fixed on the goal and get rid of everything that would hinder her from achieving the objective of following Christ.

To follow Christ means to be committed to Christ and willing do what is required to live our life rightly in Him. Our race is to be run patiently. We are to battle sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can overcome temptation (see: 1 Corinthians 10:13). We can be cleansed of sin (see: 1 John 1:9). We will stumble if we allow our eyes to stray from Jesus and if we look back on our past. We must always keep Jesus in our sight.

Paul had reason to forget his past. He had been a Christian persecutor before being saved. He had even held the coats of those who had stoned a Christian named Stephen (see: Acts 7:57-58). Like Paul we can keep from looking at the past, by trusting in God’s forgiveness of past offenses against him and others, receiving and walking in His grace. Our sins have been completely forgiven. We are made new in Christ (see: 2 Corinthians 5:17). We can look forward and not be hindered from the past. We can cast our gaze on Christ and not allow sin to entangle us. Christ has given us the victory.

Our following Christ is a real faith journey. It is not a perfect journey, but it is an amazing journey where we grow in our faith. Picking up on the similarities of the athlete, a runner and the believer, both learn and improve. Some runners have various talents that help them run. Every believer is given gifts and talents to help him on his faith journey (see: Romans 12:4-6a; 1 Corinthians 12:4-5; 1 Peter 4:10). However, both the runner and the believer have to run to grow.

Paul wrote: “It is in the gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17). Our faith journey begins when we give all we know about ourselves to all we know about God and continue to do so as we grow in Christ.  The life of a believer is from faith to faith. Extending from the beginning into the never-ending future and including every large and small detail of life, we relate to God exclusively on the basis of faith. This is why a Christ follower – His disciple – is called a believer.

Paul declared: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The Hebrews writer explains:  “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Our faith journey is not a straight line upward but one with ups and downs, but ultimately advancing forward and rising up.

Due to God’s grace and strength given to us, we can do anything and everything required of us to run the race and follow Christ. People are willing to pay exuberantly high prices for something they really value. Our following of Christ is a reflection of our understanding of how much God values us as well as the real value we place of Him. Worship is showing worth to someone or something. We express God’s worth; we worship God when we follow Him. A mark of a disciple is to press on in following Him.

I am grateful to run this race with Christ and each of you. Let us encourage one another to press on in following Him. Our stride may not be perfect, but let’s not stop going and growing in Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Ignoring Selfish Desires 10-22-18

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It is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to reach a specific destination without knowing where you are going. Whether you use a map or GPS, some type of help is needed to get you from point A to point B. In the Gospels Jesus shares marks of becoming a disciple. These marks are not met to drive people to some guilt-ridden self-willed determination to become disciples but to show what a life of a person who is God-directed grace-filled will become. One such mark of Christ’s disciples or followers is to ignore selfish desires.

 Now don’t get me wrong a desire is necessarily a bad thing. A desire is a longing or hope for something. One of the marks of a disciple is to desire to be like Christ. I desire to be a great husband and father. I also desire to visit Yellowstone. These desires are good. A selfish desire is not something that is good for you, but something that does not take into account God and the impact on others. Selfishness is not caring for your self. Selfishness is being excessively or exclusively focused on oneself. Healthy desires do not just benefit me but benefit others, and most importantly glorify God.

 In contrast, a selfish desire benefits me in spite of others and without any care for God and His kingdom. Jesus proclaimed: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25). In the previous verse, we read: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Any person who rejects God’s will and instead pursues his own will for his life ultimately loses eternally every earthly good he is trying to protect.

 To deny oneself is to die to one’s selfish will that is part of his old self before being made new in Christ. This dying to oneself expresses the true essence of the life of a Christ follower. When the old self dies, the new self comes to life (see: John 3:3-7). Dying to self means ignoring those desires that benefit you alone, without any care for God and others.

 Baptism expresses this ignoring of selfish desires or dying to self. In baptism, the act of immersion in water symbolizes dying and being buried in Christ. The coming up out of the water pictures our identification with Christ and His resurrection. This is what Paul was referring to when He wrote:

 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

 Paul is explaining that as a result of His participation (identification) in Christ’s death on the cross the old self has died and now, being identified with Christ and His resurrection, he is a new person where he no longer lives an independent life of his own, but a life of believing dependence on God. A believer’s life is not to be characterized with selfish desires, but a life marked by glorifying God, living blessed, and benefiting others.

 Denying our selfish desires is crucial if we are to use our time, talent, treasure (money), and testimony to honor Christ. Christ followers need to stop trying to control their own lives and allow God to direct their lives. Jesus calls His disciples to a life of submission and trust in Him, not self-hatred. God’s desire is for us to give up our selfishness and live a selfless life in Him.

 In reality, most of us will never be asked to actually give our physical life for Christ. But, the question is, are we willing if necessary? You would have to give up selfish desires to do so. All of us are asked to give up our selfish desires for Christ every day. So, are we willing to do so? Are we willing to die to self?

 Now our surrendering is not perfect, but our desire to do so ought to be. We come to Christ due to His salvific work, extravagant love and Grace. We continue in Him by the same. A growing disciple of Christ will ignore selfish desires and continue, by God’s power and leading, to live such a life.

 It is a joy to journey with each of you as we journey together with Christ. I pray the desires that consume us to glorify Him, bless us and benefit others. Let us pray that we will die to self and truly live in Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Count the Cost of Commitment 10-15-18

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When any of us begin a project, we count the cost and estimate whether or not we can afford to complete it. This just makes sense. In fact, Jesus says that a mark of being His disciple is to count the cost of commitment. In the Gospels, we discover nine marks or qualities of those who follow Christ. These marks are not intended to bring about a guilt-driven self-willed determination to make these marks a reality. Such a path only leads to frustration and a diminished spirit. The path Christ invites us on is one where we join Him realizing that these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One such mark of a disciple is to count the cost of commitment.

Jesus speaking to a crowd of people proclaims:

“Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:28-33).

Jesus uses two illustrations involving building and going to war. Both warn against making a hasty decision to follow Jesus. Potential disciples must first count the cost to see if following Christ is something they believe is worth the long haul. Jesus proclaims that one cost of being His disciple is renouncing everything to Him.

Although the gift of redemption and eternal life are free to anyone who asks (see: John 3:16), the asking requires a transfer of ownership (see: Luke 9:23 & Gal 5:24). “Counting the cost,” means recognizing and agreeing to these terms. It is inconsistent for a follower of Christ, His disciple, to determine to do life his own way and to follow his own inclinations. Simply stated following Christ means we follow Him.

When Jesus shared about counting the cost, He was speaking to a large crowd. The crowd loved Jesus, the miracle man. They enjoyed the free food. They probably even thought Jesus was cool. He was increasing in popularity. But Jesus knew that many loved the stuff, but not necessarily the life He was calling them into as a disciple. So, He challenges them to consider the cost.

Jesus understood that those who merely follow Him for what they can get wouldn’t stick around for the long haul. We see this when someone says church just didn’t work for me. Often, they mean, I had expectations that were not met. Life didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. In short, God didn’t do what I wanted Him to do. I didn’t get the stuff I wanted. God’s way conflicted with my way. The simple truth is that we need to count the cost. If we don’t count the cost, we will turn away at even the smallest threat of sacrifice. This is why Jesus laid it out so clearly when He ended His description of the cost of being His disciple with a breathtaking statement: “anyone of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Renouncing may mean giving up something physically. It could mean letting go of something that emotionally possesses us so that God can genuinely posses us. When we come to Christ we can’t continue to belong to the world or choose to serve someone or something else as lord of our life (see: 1 John 2:15-17 & Matt 6:24).

I recently saw a dream house sweepstakes. The home was beautiful, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area has a moderate climate. The house and location are idyllic. To add to the attraction, you even receive a sizable cash prize. Imagine if you won. You own this beautiful home, but until you pack up and leave your current home, this new life is not really yours. You cannot live in this new home and your current home at the same time. This is the way many approach following Christ. They love the idea of eternal life and paradise. They like what Christ can do for them. But they are not willing to leave the life they now live to go all in with Jesus. They either don’t consider the cost or they fool themselves into believing they can receive a new life in Christ while holding on to all or part of their old one. They want Jesus while holding on to the ownership of their life. Jesus is speaking to such people when he says: consider the cost.

Let me be clear. We can’t earn salvation through any sacrifice of our own. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the only one acceptable as well as sufficiently has paid the price in full for our salvation. But, when we receive Christ, we do so choosing to release control of our lives to Him. In reality, when we receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we relinquish all that we don’t indeed own and receive far more than we could ever ask or imagine. But, renounce all we must. If we are going to be Christ disciple, we must count the cost.

It is a privilege to follow Christ with each of you. It is a fantastic journey. Renouncing all is not a one-and-done deal. I know from time-to-time I still struggle with actually surrendering all to Him. But, I have counted the cost and am growing in my path of surrender. I am so grateful for God’s faithfulness and for His patience and extravagant love. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Sacrifice for the Cause of Christ 10-9-18

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I have often been asked, “What does a disciple of Christ look like?” Well, we discover in the Gospels nine marks or qualities of Jesus’ disciples. Now we could easily look at these marks and determine in our own strength to will them into existence. We could allow our self to operate out of guilt and try to make these marks a reality in our life. I believe such a path leads only to frustration and a diminished spirit. Let me pose a different path. I believe these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One mark of such a God-given grace-filled life of a disciple is sacrificing your self for the cause of Christ.

We discover these words of Christ found in Luke’s gospel:

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, “’Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62).

These verses can seem a little harsh, but Jesus is merely helping those seeking to follow Him understand what it means to be His disciple. We can only speculate on the actual dynamics present when Jesus encountered each of these would be disciples. Perhaps, the first man who declares, “I will follow you wherever you go,” believes discipleship is going to be glamorous. Jesus corrects this impression. He states that discipleship is not easy. We do understand that each individual Jesus addresses wants to follow Him, but is somehow unwilling to pay the price. We also understand Jesus’ reference to the plowman. Jesus says that discipleship, like a good plowman, means putting your hand to the plow and doing the ordinary, hard work. Jesus says that like a good plowman a disciple keeps their hand on the plow. A good plowman concentrates on the furrow before him. He guides the plow with his left hand while goading the oxen with his right. Looking away would produce a crooked furrow. A good plowman is fully committed to the task at hand, putting his whole self into the work. In a sense, he sacrifices self for duty as a disciple sacrifices self for the cause of Christ. Following Christ takes total dedication and does not allow for halfhearted commitment.

In the original movie, The Karate Kid, there is a scene where the wise sage and karate master Mr. Miyagi and Danielson are preparing to start a journey together as master and disciple. Mr. Miyagi asks Danielson if he is ready and Danielson responds, “I think so.” Mr. Miyagi addressing his would-be disciple explains: “Walk on the Road…walk right side, safe…walk left side, safe…walk down the middle and sooner or later you get squished just like a grape. Here Karate is the same thing. You, karate-do, yes or karate-do, no. If you Karate-do, think so…you squish just like grape.” Following Christ is the same. We either decide to follow Him, or we don’t. Trying to sort of follow Christ doesn’t work. This does not mean we follow Christ perfectly, but that we need to be sure we do indeed desire to follow Him.

Following Jesus is not about arbitrarily choosing what we will and will not accept within the teachings of Christ. We must accept all the teachings of Christ. We cannot desire the benefits of salvation without being willing to pay the price – the price of giving our very selves to Christ and His cause. In following Christ, we understand that we must abandon everything that has given us security apart from Christ and trust in Him alone.  This is a decision made, then learned as we journey with Christ in our highs and lows resting in His unfailing faithfulness.  Again, a disciple is not perfect, but being perfected by the true Perfecter.

When Paul writes about his being a disciple of Christ, he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Paul realized that the focus of Christianity was not dying, but living. Our being crucified with Christ has allowed us to be raised with Him (Rom 6:5). We have become one with Christ, and His experiences are ours. We can live the life God has called us to live because it is Christ that lives within us. When we sacrifice ourselves for the cause of Christ, the Lord empowers us to excel in kingdom living.

For most of us what means the most to us in life, we will do almost anything to get. It is our tendency to do any and everything to protect and accomplish what is truly meaningful to us. We make time for things we want to do and excuses for things we do not want to do. Usually, we will face discomfort and even jeopardize our safety for something we truly want. We must realize that following Jesus is of the utmost importance. In following Christ, we may find ourselves in seemingly unsafe and uncomfortable places. But, we must remember that there is no better place to be than in the sweet spot with Jesus where we are blessed to be a blessing. Such a life takes sacrificing self for the cause of Christ.

It is a privilege to serve Christ with each of you. There is no cause worth our whole self, like the cause of Christ. I ask God to help us trust Him to do the extraordinary in and through us as, day in and day out, as we serve Him in the ordinary. Let’s keep our hand to the plow believing the life of the disciple is truly one that glorifies God, blesses us, and benefits others. Let’ sacrifice our self for the cause of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Love Christ Above All Else 10-1-18

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In the Gospels, Jesus presents us with marks or qualities of His disciples. Now it would be easy to look over these marks and allow ourselves to be motivated by guilt. We could merely declare that if we really loved Jesus, we would do such and such. I would argue that motivation from guilt will quench one’s spirit. Alternatively, I believe these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. In short, the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One mark of such a God-given grace-filled life of a disciple is insisting on loving Christ above all else.

We find these words of Christ in Luke’s gospel:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Jesus said His disciple will love God more than anything else. Another way of putting this is that our family must not rival God as our first love.

Jesus uses strong language, recorded here in Luke, to make this point. Some have called this a hard saying of Jesus. The word “hate,” used in this verse, denotes a less degree of love. Jesus did not mean that disciple’s of His actually have to loathe their own family. Jesus is merely using strong language to help His hearers to understand the priority they need to place on their relationship with God. Compared to God, all other relationships must be valued much less.

Believers love God to some degree but struggle with loving Him above else at every moment of every day. Although in Christ, His disciple has been freed from the power of sin, this side of paradise, we still must deal with the negative influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In short, the negative influences of our culture, our old self, and the enemy fight to remove Christ as our first love. However, our Lord has exchanged our sinfulness for His righteousness on the cross, making us new creations. Thus Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). How the truth of this verse enables us to love Christ righty is quite remarkable. We are able to love Him above all else as well as love as He loves because we are now in Him. As we grow in our faith, we grow in our ability to more completely love Him. Therefore, a believer’s path to succeeding to love Christ above all else begins by trusting fully in God’s promise to cover our sinfulness with His righteous life (see: 1 John 4:10) and empowered by the Spirit intentionally growing in our relationship with Him.

At the core of insisting on loving Christ above all else is a matter of priorities. Loving Christ above all else is not merely putting Him at the top of a priority list, but placing Him at the center of our very life. When Christ is central, He is given the freedom to lead and direct how we engage in every relationship and situation in our lives in a way that reflects our love for Him.

Jesus perfectly put God first in His life. His life was characterized by total submission to the Father’s will. Christ was perfect. He had every gift and talent. He had the ability to succeed at whatever He decided to pursue. But there was only one pursuit He considered worthy, and that was to love the Father and bring Him glory in all things.

A believer’s life ought to reflect that of Christ being characterized by an ongoing pursuit of loving and bringing glory to God. This is what it means to love God above all else. We may not do this perfectly, but we can have a perfect intent and a quick response when we stray from this course. The flourishing life God has planned for us rests in recognizing that all we need is found in Him and all we are is due Him. He is to be our all and all. Placing God at the center of our life makes loving Him our absolute highest priority and privilege. After all, when we put Christ first God is glorified, we are blessed, and others are blessed through us. Such a life is how a believer washed over by the grace and transforming power of God lives.

It is a privilege to do life with each of you. Let’s continue to grow in Christ, encouraging one another to love Him above all else. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Becoming Like Christ 9-24-18

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A crucial question anyone considering Christ as well as those who have received Him as Lord and Savior ought to ask is this: What does it look like to be a disciple of Christ? Much has been written on this topic. There are some great insights we can glean from many places to help answer this question. However, I would suggest the words of Christ Himself are an excellent place to start. The Gospels record that during Jesus’ earthly ministry He described nine distinguishable marks of His disciples. One such mark is that His disciples will desire to become like Him, to be Christlike.

Jesus declared, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). To be “fully trained” means being equipped to be like Jesus. In other words, the ultimate goal of a disciple is to be like his or her teacher. Becoming more like Jesus ought to be the desire of every believer, and it is encouraging that this is God’s desire for us. In fact, we read in Romans: “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). We also read in Scripture that God will see it to the end. Paul writes to the believers in Philippi: “I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6).

We need to be careful that our understanding of God transforming us into the likeness of Christ is not allowed to wrongly create in us a feeling that we can simply sit back and wait to be carried off to heaven. Just because we have a ticket to ride the bus doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what we do while we are waiting. Our becoming like Christ requires God’s divine power and our active partnership with Him.

There are at least three essential steps to becoming like Christ. First, to become like Christ we must surrender to Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2).

Surrendering one’s self to Christ means receiving Him as Lord and Savior. It means surrendering control of our lives to Him. It is impossible to retain control of our life and flourish in Christ. To become like Christ, I must surrender to God.

Secondly, to become like Christ we must walk in His freedom. We can’t talk about freedom without discussing sin. Sin is an act of wrongdoing and an alienation from God. Although sin brings spiritual death, there is a remedy to this fatal situation. Through turning away from sin and toward Christ, receiving Him as our Lord and Savior, we receive the gift of freedom – eternal life. Paul writes: “For the wage of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Jesus has promised for us the forgiveness of our sins. He has made us right with God. He has also set us free. Sin is no longer our master; we are more clearly identified through Christ. Jesus invites us to follow Him, and we have His example of obedience as well as the power of the Spirit to live in freedom. In Christ, I am not condemned but have been set free. To become like Christ, I must walk in His freedom.

Lastly, to become like Christ we must choose Christian growth. Peter encourages us: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul encourages us: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thess 3:12).  We grow in Christ as we follow Christ in faith with each step He leads us on. We are called to know Him and make Him known. Therefore, we want to engage in spiritual disciplines (i.e., studying and applying scripture, prayer, and sharing the love and message of Christ with others).

Christ said that His followers will desire to be like Him. Let me encourage you that in this endeavor it is helpful to just focus on the next right step the Spirit is leading you to take. Prayerfully determine your next step in your journey with Christ and take it. Don’t get overwhelmed with how far the gap is between you and Christlikeness, but be encouraged that our Lord invites you to take the next step with Him to make you more like Christ.

It is an honor to serve alongside each of you. Let’s encourage each other on our journey of becoming more like Christ. Be encouraged that God invites us to join Him in doing the work in us today to make us like Jesus (2: Cor 3:18).  Be assured that in the future the process will be complete (1 John 3:2). Be motivated to, with the Help of God, partner with Him to become more like Christ as His disciple (1 John 3:3). Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!