The Cost Of Discipleship

2 Comments

John 15:18 – 16:4

18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own. But I have chosen you out of the world, so you don’t belong to it. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: A servant is not greater than his master. If people did wrong to me, they will do wrong to you, too. And if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours, too. 21 They will do all this to you on account of me, because they do not know the One who sent me.

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 I did works among them that no one else has ever done. If I had not done these works, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen what I have done, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this happened so that what is written in their law would be true: ‘They hated me for no reason.’ 

    

26 “I will send you the Helper  from the Father; he is the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father. When he comes, he will tell about me, 27 and you also must tell people about me, because you have been with me from the beginning.

16 “I have told you these things to keep you from giving up. People will put you out of their synagogues. Yes, the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering service to God. They will do this because they have not known the Father and they have not known me. I have told you these things now so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.

                                

We don’t hear a lot these days in sermons about the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Why is that?  Has the message changed since the words of Jesus were recorded in the Bible so long ago?  No, that cannot be.  For if Jesus’ words are meant to help His followers throughout the centuries, then His message must be able to stand above all cultures of men and speak into each culture authoritatively as absolute truth, not relative truth.

The world has not changed.  We know that there have always been people who will be opposed to God and who will choose to follow after their own self-determined will.  This has been the case from the beginning of time.  Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.”

So what has changed?  I believe that we have allowed the culture of this world to influence the church, rather than the church influence the world.  Paul tells us that it should not be this way, for he writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  We are to have the mind of Christ, and that is meant to cause us to stand out as being different from the world, in a positive way.

    

We do need to be ready though for the consequences of being true disciples of Christ.  Jesus says here in our passage that the world (people opposed to God) will hate us.  But that is because they first hated Him.  And why is that?  Because as He says here, when Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, He exposed the human heart and made it clear that without repentance and submission to God, all men stand as sinners before God.

As Jesus pointed out to His disciples, He had performed many miracles during His life ministry.  And these miracles gave testimony that Jesus possessed the power and authority of God Himself.  This was clearly seen in Mark 2:1-12 where Jesus not only made a paralyzed man be able to walk again, but He also forgave him of all of his sins.  The religious leaders responded with hatred towards Him though, instead of belief, because they saw Him as a threat to their established ritualistic religion.

It is so sad that those who have the most elaborate religious rituals and practices often times have the least understanding of what it means and takes to have a deep relationship with God.  For as is so often the case, the worshippers become bound by the rituals themselves, and they forget the Author behind the religion which has produced all these rules.

    

The end result for those of us who are honestly seeking to know and worship the true God will often be that we are rejected and ridiculed by those who are in the world, pursuing a life apart from God.  And we may find that we are also rejected by those who seem to be the most religious of people.  For if we do not follow all of their rituals, we are deemed not to be “religious” or “spiritual” in their eyes.

Jesus gave the disciples this speech the night before He died in that upper room where He had the last supper with them.  He wanted them to be warned about what they would face by being His disciples.  But He was not going to leave them on their own.  He promised that the Holy Spirit, who comes from God the Father, would come to be with them and help them.  That will be the focus of the next article.

enw_gospelofjohn_black2

Advertisements

Jesus Would Never Abandon His Followers

1 Comment

John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. 18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. 

19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. 20 When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

                                

Jesus gave these encouraging words to His disciples on the last night that He shared a meal with them before He was killed upon a cross the next day.  It is very clear throughout the whole evening of this Last Supper that the disciples really did not know what was going on right then, nor were they ready for what would happen next.  They were clueless.  Jesus knew this, and so He gave to them all of these precious promises.

Let’s make a list here of the wonderful promises that awaited the disciples beyond the crucifixion of their Lord, once He had risen from the dead.  Jesus told them:

    • The Father will give you an Advocate/Helper who will never leave you.
    • The Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth.
    • The Holy Spirit will live within you.
    • I, [the Son of God], will never abandon you as orphans — I will come to you.
    • You will see Me again.
    • You also will live again [both physically and spiritually].
    • You will know that I, and the Father, and you will all be united together.
    • I will love you.
    • I will reveal Myself to you.

    

It was very important that Jesus spoke these words of encouragement to the disciples that night, for it was only a few hours later that Jesus was arrested, tried and condemned to die upon a cross.  I’m sure that the disciples must have gone through some very agonizing emotional and spiritual conflict when their great Master was killed.  Truly, they would have felt as if they were abandoned, that they had become spiritual orphans.

These words of Jesus though, were not meant to apply just to these early disciples long ago.  Notice how Jesus ends his talk with promises for “those who love Him”.  This moved the scope of Jesus’ talk beyond the scope of just the Upper Room, and is meant for any person throughout history who has come to know who Jesus is, and has accepted Him as Lord and Saviour of his/her life.  We too can receive all of these same promises which Jesus gave to his first disciples, for we too who believe in Jesus are also His disciples today.

    

I can testify to the truth of these promises which have been real to me in my life.  When I accepted Jesus into my life at age 12, it was not just some mental assent to a doctrine about Jesus.  No, I had come to know Jesus as a real Person in the months that I spent reading the Bible to discover Truth.  I knew that when I put my faith in Jesus, that He indeed did send a Comforter to help me and guide me in the path of righteous living before God.

In addition to the inner prompting from the Holy Spirit as to how to live my life and what choices to make, I often also have felt the presence of Christ being with me.  I knew that when I gave my life to Jesus, that He would be my companion and Friend in life.  And that was something very huge for me, as my growing up years were difficult and lonely in so many ways.  And yet I never ever really felt alone, as I knew I could always talk with Jesus, and He would comfort my heart and heal my emotional wounds.

    

Now there are still many people who do not accept Christ or believe in God who would say that “religion is an emotional crutch for those who are psychologically weak”.  I take offense at this statement as I cannot deny all the times that God has acted in my life in very real ways that could never be explained away as some “psychological delusion”.  But there is one part that I have to agree with here in that statement.  “Religion” is not the answer.

You see, “religion” is for the most part, man-made rule and rituals that have been developed over time by those who want to control and define the “spiritual”.  This was the great problem of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who could not accept Jesus because He did not fit within their narrowly defined ritualistic set of rules.

But Jesus did not come to set up new rules.  In fact, these “commandments of mine” that He spoke of were not really new.  His two great commandments were “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind”, and “to love your neighbour as yourself”.  What Jesus was offering was not rules and rituals, but genuine relationships of men with God, and with each other.

    

And so I ask you, “Where are you my friend in your spiritual life?  Are you still pursuing rules of religion in the hopes that God will accept you?  Or are you basing the future salvation of your soul on a relationship which you have built with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?  I pray that you are doing the latter.”

enw_gospelofjohn_black2

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please share it and invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Dreams & Visions

2 Comments

God Is The God Of The Unknown

We certainly live in interesting times.  Technology, knowledge and scientific advancements are surging ahead in leaps and bounds.  They call this the “Information Age” with computer technology, data streams, wireless everything, etc.  They even have the forerunners of independent robots and they say we are on the verge of creating artificial intelligence.

Yet for all this advancement of technology, there is an upsurge in spirituality and exploration of the paranormal.  Questions are still being asked regarding the “consciousness of man”.  And the search for the meaning of life is bringing along with that the quest to know if there really is life after death.

I wish that I was able to explore all these fascinating topics more in depth, but I recognize my own limitations and that I am not really qualified to speak authoritatively on them.  Except that in a way, being a strong believer in the Bible as the Word of God, I can say some things about the unknown and the “Great Beyond”.  In this article, I want to touch briefly on the topic of “Dreams & Visions”.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

There are a couple things that prompt me to want to write about this topic.  The first is rather humorous, while the second carries more importance.  The humorous side of this has little to do with my Bible translation ministry, except for the lifestyle and the pace that I keep.  I have been so focused on my translation work for these past months, and along with the fatigue of my muscle condition, I find that I am often taking at least two naps each day to get through the day.

That being the case, I have the possibility of having a dream up to three times a day.  Add to that the fact that I seem to travel to some other part of the world every few months and it would be easy to see that I can both literally and metaphysically find myself “somewhere else”.  I can recall a handful of times now in these past few years where I have woken up from a dream and laid on the bed and stared at the walls and around the room for up to 20 minutes and wondered, “Where am I?”

What is really interesting is what has happened since I have seen the movie “Inception” with Leonardo DiCaprio.  In that movie, the characters go inside the dream of someone else, but inside that dream you can go another layer down by going into the dream of a dream character.  I now can say that I have a number of times “woken up” in a dream, and then realized that I am still in a dream and need to go up one or even two more layers of dreams to come back to reality.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

But that brings us to the question of “So what is Reality?”  Is it this world of flesh and blood that we live in?  Most people would say so, unless you are one of those strange philosophers who question everything.  But as I started at the beginning, we are seeing that millions of people that used to limit reality to just this physical world are now starting to ask about spiritual realities, and the question of life beyond death.

What makes it so difficult for us is that there is no one who has died, crossed the boundary from this life to next, and come back to tell us about it.  (Except that as Christians we hold to the belief that Jesus was in fact raised back from the dead and validated His claim to being the Son of God.)  But let us ask the question of whether anyone can “see” across that boundary line and obtain knowledge of the unknown and the spiritual.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

There are countless numbers of people who “claim” to be psychics and can reach the spiritual realm.  The Bible claims that there are people who can do this in the name of God.  They are called prophets.  What is the difference between a prophet of God and a psychic or “Medium” as we would call them? It’s very simple.  Deuteronomy 18:20-22 states that if someone makes a prophecy (or prediction) and it does not happen, then that person was not a true prophet.  In other words, a true prophet of God gets their predictions right 100% of the time.

So now on a more serious note, why am I bringing up this topic right now?  It is because I am doing my preparation work on the book of Daniel so that I can do the consultant check on the translation of it into a PNG language next week.  And Daniel is really loaded with prophetic visions.  In more than one occasion, when the Babylonian king had an alarming dream or vision, none of the “soothsayers, magicians or astrologers” was able to interpret the dream or vision.

Not so with Daniel.  He is able to interpret correctly every time whatever the message or meaning was of the vision that God had sent to the king.  What I find most interesting is the response that Daniel gives when the king asks him if he could interpret his dream for him.  In Daniel 2:27-28 he says:

“Your Majesty, there is no wizard, magician, fortuneteller, or astrologer who can tell you that.  But there is a God in heaven, who reveals mysteries.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

So what is my point in this article?  Dreams can be fascinating; visions and prophetic utterances are real and have happened and can happen to people.  But we must not look to human resources or human reasoning to understand what they are all about.  If we really want to reach out to the spiritual realm and understand it, we must look to God for this kind of help.  Anything else is either false or demonic.  There are no other options.

Miraculous Signs & Belief

Leave a comment

Sceptics & Thrill Seekers

John 2:18 – 25

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦          ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦          ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Earlier in Chapter 2 of John, we read about Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, when He turned the water into wine.  Up to that point, Jesus had been choosing and collecting disciples around Him, men who would follow Him where He went, listen to His teachings, and witness the miracles He did.  It was all done in a relatively quiet manner, with hardly anyone noticing Jesus or what He was doing.

All of this changed rather dramatically when Jesus came to Jerusalem to participate in the annual Jewish Passover celebration.  (Read the article, “What Is Wrong With This Picture”.)  Jesus burst onto the scene in a very public way when He drove out all the people from the Temple area who were selling animals for sacrifice and turned over the tables of the money changers.

This undoubtedly enraged the Jewish authorities (whom John often simply called “The Jews”).  These leaders, who most likely consisted of the Sadducees, the priests and the Levites, controlled just about every aspect of religious life and regulations for the people, along with the Pharisees (the religious leaders of the Jewish synagogues) and the Scribes (those who were the experts in the Mosaic and Rabbinic laws.)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

When Jesus cleared everyone out of the Temple area, it must have been quite a shock at first for these religious leaders.  Such as act could only have been done by a madman, or by ….. well, someone who had divine authority to do such a bold and brazen act in the Temple of God.  But that didn’t make sense to them, for Jesus was not a crazy lunatic on the one hand, but on the other hand, there had been no evidence beforehand of God granting His divine authority to this man.

So instead of arresting Jesus for HIs actions of property damage and personal assault, “The Jews” come to Jesus and ask Him to perform a sign, some miraculous deed, to give some evidence that He was in fact a man whom God had approved to do such an action.  For the religious leaders, this question made perfect sense; if God had in fact sent Jesus with authority to cleanse the Temple, then He must also possess God’s divine power to do a miracle.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Fundamentally though, there is a serious problem with the request of the leaders.  In their “holier-than-thou” attitude back then, they had already reasoned in their hearts that if someone was not a member of their established religious order, then there is no way that that person could be a man sent from God and so it would be highly doubtful that he could perform any miracle.

These leaders were sceptics from the beginning.  In asking their question for Jesus to show them a sign, they had already made the conclusion that Jesus was not from God.  And when Jesus gave them a spiritual answer, their minds were stuck upon the physical realm only.  How sad that these religious leaders were so spiritually blind.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there were some people in Jerusalem at that time that were ready to accept Jesus and put their faith in Him that He was a “miracle worker”.  It may seem strange at first that Jesus does not appear to be happy about this.  It would seem from the text that Jesus knew that His miracles were simply interesting attractions for them.

Could it be that these people, like many people today, were those who simply followed the latest fad or fashion of the day?  There were in fact many so called prophets and “messiahs” before Jesus who came along and claimed divine power and authority, and even performed some miraculous looking deeds.  But when they failed to perform further miracles, or been arrested, or just faded away, so too did the crowds disperse and stop following them.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

So what can we take away from today’s lesson?  We see that God worked through Jesus in miraculous ways and this was an obstacle for those steeped in religious ritual to truly believe in Him, and it was a problem for those who were just seeking the next spiritually exciting event to follow after.  In both cases, neither the sceptics nor the thrill seekers were prepared to establish a personal relationship with Jesus.  They both looked for the amazing “signs” of Jesus, instead of looking at Jesus.

Now we have to ask ourselves, are we much different from these two kinds of people?  Do we get so caught up in our religious rituals that we fail to nurture our relationship with Jesus and the Father?  Do we get “spiritually bored” at times in our Christian walk and we look for the speakers and events that are more exciting?  Either of these extremes can be harmful to our spiritual well being.