The Greatest

Mark 9:33 Then they came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.

Philippians 2:5-7, “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.   Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave…” (Bible quotes from HCSB)

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at Sunrise

I am a follower of Jesus Christ because He has purchased me (bought my freedom) out of the slave market of sin.  As my Master, Jesus compels me into His service; I am not compelled by force or by threats of violence, but by the power of His love (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Cor. 5:14-15).  As my Lord, Jesus commands me to take on His posture (“the form of a slave”) and become a servant (a slave) to others.

I was reminded of the above after reading Mark chapter 9 this morning for my devotions.  I took note that as Jesus walked down the road to Capernaum with his disciples (Wow!  Wouldn’t you give anything to walk the road with Jesus?), His disciples were engaged in a “Who’s going to be the big man on campus” debate.  Later, Jesus instructed His disciples (and us) to consider that greatness is not seen in how much status you have in the eyes of others.  Jesus taught His disciples that greatness in God’s kingdom is seen in how much you serve.  For when we take on the posture of slaves and serve one another, we take on the image of Jesus; and isn’t Jesus, truly, the greatest person of all.

Let’s be honest: we do not like being servants, and we especially do not like being called slaves.  However, Michael Card reminds us  (A Better Freedom) that the, “choice is not between slavery and freedom. The choice has always only been… whose slave will you be?”  Michael Card continues, “As Jesus had offered wisdom through foolishness, maturity through childlikeness, and wealth through poverty,”  Jesus’ followers understand that the only way to a “better freedom” is  to be found in slavery to Christ.

Card continues:

“In order to become rich you must become poor, (Lk. 12:33) in order to become mature you must rediscover your own childlikeness, (Mk. 9:36) in order to become wise you must embrace the foolishness of the gospel. (I Cor. 3:18) In Jesus, life comes through death (Jn. 5:24) and the only true freedom comes from slavery to Him. (I Cor. 7:22) He came to turn the world upside down, to shatter all our definitions and images, and to fulfill them. The fundamental mysteries of following Jesus are always rooted in paradox.”

“These are the harsh realities of faith in Jesus and if we are to be followers of him, in the truest biblical sense, we must give ourselves to understanding them.” (Michael Card, A Better Freedom)

http://www.amazon.com/Better-Freedom-Finding-Slaves-Christ/dp/0830837140/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1462463648&sr=8-1&keywords=a+better+freedom

The Game Changing Gospel

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at Sunrise

Through the gospel God exerts his power to transform lives and change cultures. I am of the opinion that the church does not need another summit or conference on racial reconciliation or multi-culturalism; what’s needed today are preachers who will prophetically proclaim the gospel.  When the gospel is preached to people whom the Holy Spirit has prepared to receive it, they receive it, and they demonstrate their faith in the gospel by walking in “newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)  Let me suggest that anything short of this (changing or accommodating our music styles, or creating night club like atmospheres in our sanctuaries, etc.) will not bring the needed flame of radical revival, but will produce a mere reshuffling of the same old deck of lukewarm cards.

I love this section from George and Woodward’s book, The Mark of Jesus. Using an example from the history of the church, George and Woodward challenge us to consider afresh the power of the gospel to change our lives. They write:

The Testimony of Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr effectively depicted and defended the lifestyle of Christians. In his First Apology (c. A.D. 155), Justin challenged Emperor Antonius Pius to take a good, hard look at the way Christians lived. Justin apparently did not fear that an investigation by the emperor would find the Christians to be hypocrites: “It is for us, therefore, to offer to all the opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest we ourselves should bear the blame for what those who do not really know about us do in their ignorance.” Then, in a marvelous passage, Justin described how the power of the Gospel had transformed Christians at the very core of their aspirations and desires:

Those who once rejoiced in fornication now delight in continence alone; those who made use of magic arts have dedicated themselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who once took pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another would not associate with men of different tribes because of [their different] customs, now after the manifestation of Christ live together and pray for our enemies and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us, so that they, living according to the fair command of Christ may share with us the good hope of receiving the same things [that we will] from God, the master of all.

According to Justin Martyr, Christians turned their backs on sexual immorality, on the making of money as a life avocation, and on yielding to racism. Rather, they shared their goods even with those whom they had formerly disdained for racial reasons—those who belonged to other tribes. Many Christians were living in unity and were intent on seeing their non-Christian neighbors come to Christ. They prayed for their enemies with the hope that they might likewise become followers of the true God. They believed that only those persons were worthy to be called Christians who actually obeyed their Lord’s teachings.

As for those persons who did not obey Christ’s teachings (hypocrites), Justin Martyr offered little comfort: “Those who are found not living as he taught should know that they are not really Christians, even if his teachings are on their lips, for he said that not those who merely profess but those who also do the works will be saved. For he said this: ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’”Justin Martyr, therefore, viewed “apologetics”(the defense of the faith) in a somewhat different fashion than we often do, if we limit its scope to the presentation of the “theistic proofs”or historical arguments for the resurrection of Christ. Certainly Martyr made the case for fulfilled prophecies in Scripture, the reality of Christ’s miracles, and the truthfulness of the resurrection. But Martyr was not hesitant also to make the point that many of the Christians he knew obeyed Christ’s teachings. This would mean that any hypocrisy charge regarding them would not stick. He wrote: “Many men and women now in their sixties and seventies who have been disciples of Christ from childhood have preserved their purity: and I am proud that I could point to such people in every nation.”

Justin Martyr’s presentation of how Christians actually lived out their faith received confirmation of sorts from a surprising quarter. Pagan critics, while condemning Christianity as an irrational faith that attracted the weak-minded, on occasion paid backhanded tributes to the Christians by describing them as those who kept their word and shared their goods with each other. Undoubtedly, the early church had its hypocrites who by no means followed Christ in the way Justin Martyr indicated. At the end of the second century, Tertullian complained that he knew Christians, including members of the clergy, who ran after money and church offices rather than seeking to follow Christ’s teachings. For many early Christians, not following Christ’s teachings indicated a person was worse than a hypocrite; the person was a “non-Christian.

What Friends are For

criticism png

When my wife and I finished reading the book of Job for our daily devotions one very convicting take away that the Lord brought to our attention was how easily criticism flows out of our mouths to either condemn and pass judgment on others.

When Job’s friends observed Job’s life collapsing right before their eyes they wrongly judged him by thinking that all this calamity was happening to Job because he was guilty of something.

  • Eliphaz – Job 4:7 ¶ “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? 8 Even as I have seen, Those who plow iniquity And sow trouble reap the same.
  • Bildad – Job 8:3 Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice? 4 If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression. 5 If you would earnestly seek God And make your supplication to the Almighty, 6 If you were pure and upright, Surely now He would awake for you, And prosper your rightful dwelling place.
  • Zophar – Job 11:7 ¶ “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? … 10 “If He passes by, imprisons, and gathers to judgment, Then who can hinder Him? 11 For He knows deceitful men; He sees wickedness also. Will He not then consider it?
  • Zophar – Job 20:27 The heavens will reveal his iniquity, And the earth will rise up against him. 28 The increase of his house will depart, And his goods will flow away in the day of His wrath. 29 This is the portion from God for a wicked man, The heritage appointed to him by God.”
  • Elihu – Job 34:20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail, And they shall not escape, And their hope-loss of life!” … 34:35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge, His words are without wisdom.’ 36 Oh, that Job were tried to the utmost, Because his answers are like those of wicked men! 37 For he adds rebellion to his sin; He claps his hands among us, And multiplies his words against God.

Although Job’s friends had lots negative things to say about Job, God had this to say about him:

  • Job 1:8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”

What a great reminder this book has been to me to be careful how I judge someone. More often than not, what people need from me is not criticism, but sympathy, empathy, genuine concern and care. As Job’s friends, they did not offer him their love, support, and sympathy, but their criticism, their accusations, and their cruelty. And because these men were his “friends” I believe that their words stung Job harder than the loss of his wealth, his children, and his health.

Job 12:4 “I am one mocked by his friends, Who called on God, and He answered him, The just and blameless who is ridiculed.”

Job 16:10 “They gape at me with their mouth, They strike me reproachfully on the cheek, They gather together against me.”

Job 17:1 ¶ “My spirit is broken, My days are extinguished, The grave is ready for me. 2 Are not mockers with me? And does not my eye dwell on their provocation? …. 6 “But He has made me a byword of the people, And I have become one in whose face men spit.

Job 21:3 Bear with me that I may speak, And after I have spoken, keep mocking.

My prayer today is that the Holy Spirit will control my thoughts of others, and the words that I will speak to them.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

If you are the object of someone’s criticism and scorn, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44) And remember, that the only person who’s opinion of us really matters, is the LORD’s. As it is written:

Romans 8:33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

God is my friend png

Sweet ‘n’ Sour – Words Have Power

original_screen-printed-gossiping-cow-tea-towel

Proverbs 16:24 ¶ Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.

Proverbs 26:20 ¶ Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. 21 As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. 22 The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.

It is unfortunate that gossip is an acceptable sin among too many Christians. There are two things that make the sin of gossip so hard to pinpoint and difficult to deal with: First of all, we like to hear rumors and stories of other people’s affairs. Lastly, we chose to be ignorant of the truth, and pretend not to understand that listening to a gossip (some one that digs up evil and sows strife) is just as bad as being the one who does it.

One of the greatest lessons in life that I ever learned was this one:

“Being Ignorant of the law is no excuse to break it.

I learned this lesson when I was 12 years old, and I learned it the hard way as I was tried and convicted of a crime that I had deluded myself into thinking that I was innocent of.  Let me explain.

gossip tutorial

When I was 12 years old I was caught riding in a stolen car with some friends (that I will affectionately call my friendly “Neighbor-hoodies”).  Consequently, I was booked accordingly, and given a day in court.  To say the least, I was both embarrassed and scared, because I always considered myself to be a good kid, and took pride in myself that I was not as bad as others.  So, how did this happen to me?

When my “friends” offered me a ride home in a car that they had stolen, although I knew in my heart that this was wrong (and that they were hoodlums), I convinced myself that simply riding in a stolen car was not the same, or as bad, as stealing it. Therefore, I convinced myself that simply riding in a stolen car was OK, and therefore I was innocent of a crime.

Fortunately, when the judge considered my case she thought otherwise. Judge Phillips rightly condemned me for being “Party to a crime”, and she sentenced me to probation with the understanding that if I stayed out of trouble until I was 18 this offense would be expunged from my record.

In the eyes of Judge Phillips, my participating in (and benefiting from) a crime made me just as guilty as the person that actually did it.  If being party to a crime is itself a crime according to human law, how much more is it a crime according to the Law of God?

Colossians 3:25 But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;

My prayer today is that God will give me the wisdom to discerned between the pleasant words of the righteous that are “like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones”, and the evil words of the wicked that are “like tasty trifles.” May God give me the strength to cling to the former, and the power to shun the latter. As it is written:

1 Thessalonians 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Epilogue – I thank you Lord that this sad episode in my life scared me straight.  I also  thank You for the last forty-six (and counting) years of my life I have lived crime free.  I thank you Lord because I know that it was, it is, and it will continue to be only by Your grace!

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at Sunrise