Disciples, Baptism, Teaching

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The passage above is called by many the Great Commission. Jesus sent out His followers to the whole world to preach the good news to all people. For this morning, I wanted to make a few observations about this passage.

A disciple is a student. We are told to make disciples, but I believe that phrase “make disciples” means on our part we are to teach. We cannot “make” anyone learn. But if we are constantly teaching others, there will be those who listen and want to become students of Jesus. Our mission is just like that of Philip with the Ethiopian…preach the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35).

We don’t teach all things Jesus commanded BEFORE someone is baptized and becomes a Christian. What does a person have to know in order to become a Christian? It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? They have to know Jesus and Him crucified. We don’t have to go into a long series of studies on learning everything about how a Christian is to behave or how the church is to worship. That all comes later. Are we trying to make sure a person has all the religious answers so they can pass the test and be approved to become a Christian? If so, we’ve got it all wrong.

We keep teaching. The work is not over when someone becomes a Christian. Too many times Christians have dropped the ball on this matter. We work so hard to help someone become a Christian, and once they obey the gospel, we move on to the next person who needs to become a Christian. It’s like the assumption is made that all the other stuff they need to know is going to be learned by osmosis. Would we take a newborn baby, set it in a crib and walk away for months? That would be negligent homicide. Jesus told us that the bulk of teaching happens AFTER the person becomes a Christian. We can’t stop teaching, instructing, encouraging, etc.

Along with that is to understand that a person who comes up from the waters of baptism is not going to understand a lot of things you and I have know for decades and maybe even take for granted. What are God’s guidelines for marriage? How do you live a godly life? What does it mean to love others in relationships? How do you worship God? Why do we need to be part of a local congregation?

Let’s remember to keep teaching. Keep in mind that we don’t have to shove all the word of God into people’s heads before they become Christians. But also, remember that we all need to be taught continuously after we become Christians. There will never be a time when we no longer need to be taught all that Jesus said.

Grow in the Grace

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18).

I heard a lesson last week that referred to this passage about growing in grace. The preacher talked about how we do not grow in condemnation and guilt, but we grow in grace. Grace is the fertile soil in which our souls will flourish and grow.

This is just as true for our kids, our spouses, our friends, etc. If we seek the growth of others, we have to remember that people grow in an environment of grace. Many of us, if not all of us, have experienced a relationship based upon guilt, shame and condemnation. Whether that came from a parent, from the pulpit or from people in authority at work or school, that kind of condemnation crippled us and stunted our growth.

If you are walking around afraid to mess up because of how those around you treat you when you fail, then you understand what condemnation and guilt will do for you. The apostle Paul understood the agony of seeking perfection in law-keeping and the guilt and condemnation it brought with it. He cried out, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). That’s how a lot of us walk around, and sadly that’s how a lot of us treat others. Shame. Guilt. Condemnation. Follow the rules…perfectly. Don’t mess up.

Read the next verse, where Paul again cries out, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Also read what Paul wrote just a few verses later, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Does God expect you to grow in fear that if you mess up, He is going to zap you? No, He holds you in His embrace as you grow, as you stumble, as you fall and as you get back up. His assurances and promises are there with you that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38-39). He has begun a good work in you, and He will see it to completion (Philippians 1:6). That is not a shame and guilt-based relationship, that is love, mercy and grace-based relationship.

It would be helpful if we took out a “legal” pad, and write down as many verses as we can find in the Bible about Gods’ love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and longsuffering. Remind yourself that you are in a relationship of grace, security and mercy. You are safe in the arms of Jesus because of His blood. If we are safe in Jesus, then others around us will be treated the same way (Romans 15:7).

No one had the strength to subdue him

“He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” Mark 5:3-5

No one could bind him…No one had the strength to subdue him. This man wasn’t fit to live among people. Only Jesus could heal what was wrong with this demon-possessed man. People of the village were trying to use their own strength to harness, control and stop this man, but it was the spirit inside that was giving the man this strength and destructive power.

The man didn’t need chains and shackles, they were useless. He needed Jesus. Look in Mark 5:1-20 to see how Jesus got inside of this man and changed him from the inside out. Once the man’s insides changed, then the outside reflected that spiritual transformation. This formerly demon-possessed man became a powerful evangelist for Jesus! But that didn’t happen until the demons within were cast out.

Again, it is Jesus that makes you and me fit to live among people. We may try to harness, manage or control the behavior and words of others, but it is Jesus that really has the power to release the “demon” within. Those “demons” can be things like guilt, past abuse, shame, addictions, etc. If we find ourselves breaking chains and shackles, going around in a rage, and cutting ourselves with stones, then the real problem is what is going on deep down inside of us. Until we truly get at peace with ourselves and with Jesus, then we will be like this man living in a cave howling at the moon.

In our relationships, we must focus more on root causes and not symptoms.

Through sloth the roof sinks in

Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks.
(Ecclesiastes 10:18)

Some people are too lazy to fix a leaky roof– then the house falls in.
(Ecclesiastes 10:18, Contemporary English Version)

Have you ever let that project on the house go too long, and it ended up costing you more later because the problem got worse? Well apparently 3,000 years ago people did the same thing. Painfully, Solomon points out the main reason those projects don’t get finished. Sloth. Laziness (which means aversion of activity or exertion). That hole in the roof will only get bigger, the gutters will only get more full of leaves, and the leak under the sink did not get better because you put a bucket under it and shut the cabinet door!

As leaders in churches, we can also learn a thing or two from this principle. Sometimes our neglect and slothfulness can lead to a huge problem down the road. What may have been a simple repair a year ago turned into a church divided a year later.

Every Christian is to pay attention to each other “daily,” because big spiritual problems can spring up fast (Hebrews 3:12,13).

Shepherds (elders) are to watch out with diligence for the flock (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Wolves don’t take a day off, do they?

How did the church at Ephesus lose its first love? How did the church at Sardis slowly die? How did the church at Thyatira let in false teachers that led many astray? I think in some way the answer is the same…neglect. The strong and the wise ignored the signs that problems were arising and did not attend to them.

It would be nice to coast as a Christian, but we really don’t have that luxury. We as a culture are working toward “self-driving” vehicles, but there isn’t such a thing in God’s church. Pay attention. Get on that roof and fix that problem right away.

I know that roofs are easier to “fix” than people, but the principle still applies. A little attention now, and some hard work now, just may well save a whole new roof job down the road.

When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,
(Acts 11:23)

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
(Hebrews 12:15)

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?
(Proverbs 27:23-24)

God’s Training – Time and Events

Where we are now is a result of a lot of people, choices, successes, failures, joy, pain, experiences, time and events.

My wife and I were discussing this topic earlier today, specifically in connection to her desire to start a soap business. All of her previous experiences, jobs, being a manager, and other entrepreneurial endeavors have trained and prepared her for this time and this opportunity. She has learned about customer service, attention to detail, marketing, confidence in your product, etc. Her confidence and abilities to do what she’s doing now have come from decades of doing other things, all of which helped shape her thinking to do what she is so passionate to do.

We talked about Joseph in the book of Genesis and how all his experiences, both good and bad, prepared him for the moment he would be called to be second in command to Pharaoh. You could say the same about many other people like David, Esther, Joshua, Nehemiah, Paul, Ezra or Moses.

Think of where you have been, what you have experienced and how that has shaped who you are today. It could be painful experiences that have taught you compassion for others. It may be developing the confidence of seeing your efforts pay off and your plans turn out successfully. Also there are times when you have to go back to the drawing board a thousand times and keep trying to make it work, and it finally does (Just like Thomas Edison)!

What has happened through all of that time? From a secular perspective, you are becoming a much wiser person, a more well-rounded individual. There are things you can do now that you may never have been able to do before because you are a much more seasoned individual.

Even better, if you are a follower of Jesus, God is working in you and through you to refine you and conform you into the image of His Son. He is preparing you to be a vessel in His house and an instrument of His righteousness. As He prepares you to work in the world developing your skills and talents, He is also molding and shaping your character. He sees farther than any business, trade skill, or sports ability you may have; remember He is the one who gave these things to you in the first place. Through you working in the world using your talents and skills, He is working on the rest of the world to show them His glory through you.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Yet You have brought us out

I want to share Psalm 66 with you today. Here the Psalmist talks about hardships and what God allows to happen, but what God does through those trials and after those trials.

The one phrase I really like here is, “Yet you brought us out into a place of abundance.” Regardless of the “abundance” part, He brought us out. We go through the trials, we pass through the fire and water, but God brings us out. That means He was with us all along in the trial walking with us and leading us through it.

Keep that in mind today, men.

Psalm 66:8-20

8  Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will perform my vows to you,
14 that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!

Fathers Teach not Provoke

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.

This verse comes on the heels of Paul’s teaching to children to obey their parents in everything. The standard is clearly set for children in our homes just as the standard is clearly set for each of in the family of God…obey! Guess what…just like us…our children don’t always get it right and disobey and sin. The result…grief. With this in mind, what is Paul teaching us fathers?

Notice first that “fathers” are directed in this command. Paul knows how to say parents because he did so in verse 1. Why are fathers singled out? Ephesians 5:23 tells us that husbands are declared by God to be the head of the family and therefore responsible and accountable for what happens in the family. Fathers are to have an active role in the family, particularly in raising the children. Additionally, fathers are going to be challenged to not act in anger toward the children. There is a reason God says this to the men. The intention seems clear that this is an issue that we must be aware of. Fathers are going to have the temptation to provoke the children to anger.

Children test our patience, our will, and our authority as fathers. They grieve us, however, the command rules out excessively severe discipline/consequences, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, being unfair, nagging, being humiliating, etc. Children are persons in their own right and are not be manipulated, exploited, or crushed. Our Father is loving, graceful, merciful and long suffering…we must be the same with our children. With that said, this does not mean we allow our children to run the household. Children are not the head of the family.

The answer to the challenge of parenting…to fathering…is not to let the children do what they want. Verse 4 tells us fathers to raise our children and to not provoke them…both are required. So how might we do this? We might start with saying “no” with a reason. It is easy to just say “no”. But think about the frustration, confusion, and disappointment our child might experience if we do not explain the reason or make the “no” inconsistent with how we live. This is especially important with our children who are old enough to reason with and to make every effort with each “teachable” moment. Our Father teaches us with “no” and His consistent and Holy will gives us confidence “no” is right and best.

Please don’t misunderstand me…there are times as Godly fathers when our rule or word must simply be enforced. What I emphasizing here is we cannot let our attitude always be “my way or the highway”. The word “discipline” speaks to the activity of the education. Some translations rightly read, “training.” This is active and it is a partnership with our children. “Our way or the highway” all the time is not “parenting” or “teaching” or “leading”…that is simply “bossing”…and our God does not love us or raise us that way.

I know we all want our children to safe and in the loving care of our Heavenly Father because that is what they choose to be. I know we want our children to have the life skills to be independent of us when they leave our home. Fathers, we have a job to raise our children so that when they turn 18 they can live life independent of us but are especially dependent on our Heavenly Father! We must show them that we desire God and find our joy in God. What we are doing is not an activity as if God is something to do. We desire these things because this is the whole life and joy.

(NOTE: These thoughts were amplified by a sermon by Brent Kercheville from West Palm Beach CoC; 2014.)

Stretching Fence

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 6:17-20)

We’ve been working on putting up fence lately, and it is a long process (at least for us, because we are certainly not pros). Woven wire fencing has to be stretched and attached to the posts. In order for it to be stretched properly you need to have your corner and gate posts anchored and set in the ground and they have to be braced.  If you attach that woven wire to fence posts that are not firmly set in the ground and braced, you will have all kinds of problems when you try to stretch the fence. The sagging fence and leaning posts will reveal that you didn’t do your job right.

That being said, if you have hefty corners that are well set and braced, then you can put a lot of tension on that fencing and it will do just fine. We attached a come-along to the fence and then to our van (that big Ford Van ain’t moving). We cranked on that fence with a come-along and a chain, and the fence tightened and stretched.

So, here is the point for the day. When we are anchored and attached to the right things, we can endure an enormous amount of pressure.

How could Christians endure being slaughtered, tortured and crucified for their faith? Because they were anchored to Christ and His promises in heaven. How does a spouse endure adultery and betrayal? How do people move on after devastation like we saw from Hurricane Harvey? How do we cope when we hear the word, “cancer?

By being anchored and attached to the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ.

Pressure and trials will reveal what our anchor and foundations are (1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:7). What’s your corner post? Are you truly anchored to Jesus and His promises?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

Therefore from one man

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore (Hebrews 11:11-12).

I was always taught that when there is a “therefore” in a Bible verse you need to find out what it’s “there for.” This “therefore” in Hebrews 11:11-12 connects the faith of Sarah to the innumerable multitude that came from the loins of Abraham. It was not just Abraham’s faith and Abraham’s relationship with God that brought forth these amazing blessings from God upon generations to come.

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who promised. THEREFORE…

Sarah’s faith gave her power to conceive. See the “therefore”? Therefore Abraham became a father of multitudes. Yes God promised it, and Abraham believed it, but Sarah became pregnant because she believed it, too.

Sarah grew in faith to reach this conclusion. She had at times considered her own age and physical ability to conceive a child. When we look at passages like Genesis 16 and 18 we know that Sarah had her own growth process that she had to go through to come to the faith we see mentioned in Hebrews 11:11. Remember that Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar into the embrace of Abraham because she thought that would be the way to make God’s blessings and promises a reality (Genesis 16). It was Sarah who laughed inside her tent when she heard the men talking about her having a baby the next year (Genesis 18).

If that’s all you knew about Sarah would you have called her a strong woman of faith? If you were Abraham would you be tempted to think you are the strong one in this relationship and are carrying her along? Sarah had her moments of weakness, and she had need of growth, but look at what God did through Sarah.

Didn’t Abraham have to grow too? Abraham laughed too! When offered the handmaid Hagar, he went into her. He listened to Sarah instead of God. Abraham had his own process of growth he was going through.

All of this to say, men, that when we look at our wives who are following Jesus, know that God is doing a great work within them, and He will accomplish it (Philippians 1:6). Also know that because of that growth of faith within her, you and generations to come will be blessed immensely.

Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:28-31).

 

 

 

When God Sent a Famine

NOTE: Sorry that some of you received the draft of this email yesterday. Oops!


What happens when God brings a famine of His word? Take some time to meditate upon the following passages that contrast the attitude of Israel toward God’s word before and after their captivity.

Their attitudes toward God’s word BEFORE captivity:

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy.
(2 Chronicles 36:15-16)

Their descendants’ attitudes toward God’s word AFTER captivity:

Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.
(Nehemiah 8:5-12)

What happened in between? God brought a famine!

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD. “People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. “In that day the beautiful virgins and the young men will faint from thirst.
(Amos 8:11-13)

It’s the old “Don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” teaching. God basically told them, since you don’t want My Word, I’ll take it away from you. This was a hard lesson, but Israel needed to learn it.

Here are a few final passages about hunger for God’s word:

  • I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (Psalms 119:131, also vs. 20,40,162,174,).
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
  • I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12).
  • Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 2:1-3).