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Making Disciples – Faith With Works

James really challenges us when he asks, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?” (James 2:14). What good is a faith like that? He even goes on asks, “Can that faith save him?” Wow! Is he suggesting that a faith that is lacking works is not sufficient to salvation? Aren’t we told over and over that all we have to do is believe in Jesus and we will be saved, get our ticket to heaven punched and we are good to go on way? Maybe James is simply teaching us that when we get saved we have to quit doing some ‘bad’ things. But ceasing certain activities and habits is not the same as works. ‘Not doing’ some things is not the same as ‘doing’ things.In the next several verses James continues by giving us examples and much greater clarification of an active discipleship; not simply a ‘believing’. One must question, if they are not doing the works of the Father, the works Jesus did, are they really believing? And if they are not believing the whole premise of their salvation is now wiped out.

The works of Christ were wrought to reach out to us, the broken, and bring us to a place of redemption. His words and his miracles alike were designed to draw us to himself who is the only way to the Father. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus summarizes our calling to carry on his works. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  From this passage of scripture, spoken by Jesus near the end of his time on earth, it is made clear that we are called to make disciples.

So, what exactly is it we are called to do?

1)       We must recognize and accept that this is not optional, it is commanded – The tenor of this passage is very clearly one of a command. Those who are disciples are commanded to make disciples. It is surprising how many in the church today feel no need to follow or even acknowledge this command. In the parable of the sower we see that some of the seed grows up among the thorns. In the parable this plant lives but it is unfruitful. How will it go for us when we stand before the judge and he asks why we did not obey what is commanded from the very mouth of Jesus himself? The one we call Savior commands us to go and make disciples and we disobey.

2)       If we are obeying there will be fruit – If we obey the command there will be fruit. In this passage Jesus promises he will be with us. He is directly referring to being with us in our efforts. It is an assurance of success. If God be for us who can be against us? Can Jesus be unfruitful? Again, the plant that is more concerned with the cares and benefits of this world is unfruitful. But the plant that lives in the Spirit will produce fruit. There are fruits of the Spirit as our lives operate in him. When we die to ourselves a new plant grows up; “unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit.” This new plant is intended to be fruitful. The harsh reality is that if our testimony and witness is not making disciples then we must seriously question the quality of that witness.

3)       Making disciples is an active pursuit – The first word in this command is to go. It is not to sit. It is not to wait for them to come into church. It is not to “live good lives in front of people” so they will somehow think to ask us about Jesus. It is to go! We have to make up our minds that we will actively seek out the lost and introduce them to Jesus as Andrew did with Peter; “come and see this man”, Andrew said.

4)       Making disciples is not just for people like ourselves; it is cross-cultural. Jesus commands his followers to make disciples of all nations. Some people are called to be missionaries in foreign lands, but in America one does not have to leave their own city to reach people of different cultures, backgrounds, nationalities and more. We have to see all people as broken souls in need of the Gospel.

5)       Making disciples starts with the person accepting Jesus as Savior and becoming part of the body of Christ. “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them…”; this clearly indicates the beginning of becoming a disciple – that choice to accept the Gospel message and become a part of the body of Christ.

6)       Making disciples assimilates people into the body of Christ – To baptize is significant in that it is the action that accompanies the faith decision. This action is about bringing people into the body of Christ. The job is not done once someone makes the decision to accept the Gospel message of salvation. That person must then be assimilated into the body of believers, the eclessia.

7)       Making disciples means training believers – As believers are assimilated into the body of Christ, they are to be trained on what it means to live in this body. They are to trained on how to live in the body of Christ; how to serve and how to make disciples themselves. Jesus states, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”. The command from Jesus does not stop at the person’s initial salvation.

Being the Church – Consistency

Being the church means living our lives as the body of Christ. The body carries out what the mind determines. We are the body, Christ is the head.

When I was growing up I loved baseball and I wanted to be the very best I could be. Everyday the weather permitted I would take my baseball bat and take 500 swings. I did this so that my swing would be consistent. You can’t hit a small ball travelling at a good speed with your bat randomly going all over the place. For some reason we believe we can approach our Christian walk in a random fashion and do fine as Christians.

Following Christ requires a commitment. A commitment always requires consistency. Romans 6:11-13 says “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” We are to offer ourselves to God. Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily. A consistent offering of ourselves to God. We are not called to live this life unto ourselves and our wants and desires. We are told to offer to God. Anyone who knows me knows I am not legalistic. We are not saved by

Practicing Rational Thinking in the Face of Temptation – A Study, Part 1

One of the most challenging ways of practicing rational thinking is dealing with temptation.  To borrow a computer term, you are the administrator of your mind.  The administrator determines who, or in this case, what has access.   God has empowered you to control what goes on in your mind.  I have worked as a network administrator.  We use different tools to manage and monitor who has access to the different areas and components of a network.

Lets examine how that idea can apply to our minds.  What level of control do we have and how do we implement this control?  What can we control and to what degree?

We cannot control what thoughts come into our heads, but we can control what we do with them.  Even Jesus, while on earth did not control what thoughts sought access to his mind, but He certainly controlled what happened to them once there.  In Matthew, chapter 4 we have the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.  In this story Jesus was tempted in three different ways; self-fulfillment of physical needs, pride, and power.  Temptation comes in the form of thoughts.  The thoughts, or temptations, come to our head uninvited.  This is what Jesus was experiencing.  This was not the only time Jesus experienced temptation.  Hebrews 4:15 states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”  Jesus was tempted in every way, yet He did not sin.  How was He able to accomplish that?

For the sake of discussion, consider temptations, or tempting thoughts, as ‘negative’ thoughts.  Lets look back at the fourth chapter of Matthew.   Each time a temptation, a tempting thought came to Jesus, He actively responded with a ‘positive’ thought.   Jesus’ source of positive thoughts was the scripture, the Word of God.  He responded to the thoughts of temptation with thoughts of the scripture.

First the tempter said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”   Well, Jesus was the Son of God.  That is a true statement, a true thought.  Jesus certainly could have turned the stones into bread.  He had turned water into wine.  Why not stones into bread?   In order for something to be tempting it must be a viable option.  Or at least it must appear to be a viable option.

This thought had entered Jesus mind and was a viable option.  Now what does He do with it?  He answered with, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’.”  Jesus had quoted Deuteronomy 8:3.

The other option for Jesus, and the option we too often choose, would have been to dwell on the tempting thoughts.  When Satan said to Jesus, via a tempting thought, saying “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”, he knew Jesus was hungry.  After all, He had been fasting for 40 days and nights.  Jesus could have responded to that thought by rationalizing, “Wow, I am hungry.  And you know, I am the Son of God and I’m sure my Father wouldn’t want me to go hungry.”  I need to keep my strength up to do ministry.  I have the power to turn these stones into bread for myself.  Why not do it?”  The longer He dwelt on the thought, entertained the thought, the more opportunity He would have given it to take root in His mind, or his soul. Jesus didn’t give it that opportunity. He fought back in His mind, in His soul.

This is the model, the process that Jesus used as he was tempted in every way and yet did not sin.  This is how He overcame.  Can we do this?  Absolutely!  The same tools are available to us.  In addition we have the example and the indwelling presence of THE LIVING WORD, Jesus to help us succeed.

With what was Jesus being tempted?  Eating is not sinful.  Performing miraculous acts is not sinful.  Why not perform the miracle and turn the stones into bread?  How did Jesus identify the author of the thoughts as Satan?  Remember, the thoughts came to Jesus mind as other thoughts do. He was not simply being tempted to eat or perform a miracle. He was being tempted to be self-serving and reject the very nature of a servant of the Father that he had assumed. This likewise is at the root of our temptations. The answer to all of these is his reliance on, his trust in and his knowledge of the scripture and the Holy Spirit. His determination was rooted in his supreme dedication to the will of his father.

We cannot control what thoughts come in to our head.  We will have negative thoughts.  We will have tempting thoughts.  We can, however, control what we do with these thoughts when they come.  Will we respond to them with positive thoughts, with thoughts from the scripture?  Or will we dwell on them, allowing them to take root in our mind and creating a quagmire that we wallow in?  God, and His Word, can and will deliver us and provide victory.

Its What I Am

A Preacher – it’s not what I do, its who I am.

Being a preacher is God’s specific calling on my life in service to him. Being a preacher is not what I do, but it is how serving God lives out in my life. It has become how I identify. Don’t misread or misunderstand – I realize and understand that first and foremost my identity is found in Christ and his grace making me a child of God.  I am nothing without him and that is at the very core of my identity. But being a preacher has become a part of that identity. It has become the natural expression of that identity.

Every Christian is called to follow and serve. That calling is to become integrated into who we are in Christ. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” How awesome it is to be the workmanship of God. We are made by him and in him. We have become a new creation with the old put away and putting on the new. This workmanship, carefully and wonderfully crafted by the master, is made for the purpose of serving. We are created in Christ for good works. Serving is not simply something that we add to our lives and try to do as we find time. It is our purpose, what we are built for.

For me, I am called to be a preacher. What are you called to be? God calls all Christians to BE servants. As his workmanship what are you made to be in Christ?

Life – Lost and Found

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus said whoever whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. What on earth does that mean?

Not long after Rev. Elliot said this he gave his life in service to Christ as he was killed by the very people he was trying to reach on the mission field. Jesus, too, gave his life after teaching those words. His life was given as a sacrifice for our sin.

What we know as life is temporary, corrupt. It is slowly, gradually rotting away. Our best efforts to preserve it by good diet and exercise are futile at best. As Solomon said it’s all vanity. We think of life as our daily existence, not merely physical, but revolving around the physical nonetheless. Our life does, however involve emotions like love and compassion, mental abstracts such as learning and reasoning and many other things that cannot be described in physical terms. But even those things are corrupt, imperfect, impure.
Real life, as given by God is eternal. It is different than our merely physical presence. It breaks the barriers and limitations of this temporal existence that we currently know. It is better than the tainted versions of our feelings. When we were created we were meant to be permanent. We were meant to be perfect.
So the life that we are called to give away is a temporary, corrupt, rotting existence.  It does not last and even if we choose to not give it away it will be taken away from us. Such is the course of nature. On the other hand the life that we gain, the life given by Jesus is permanent and is being perfected by the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Indeed, Rev. Elliot was right – it is far from foolish to give away what we cannot hope to keep, nor should we want to keep, in order to gain what we cannot lose or cannot be taken away, that which is holy and pure and eternal.

Bible Study – A Critical Assumption

One of the most important Christian disciplines (think habits) is Bible study. As Christians we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Think about that – “The Word of God” – wow! To correctly and effectively study the Bible we must start with a critical assumption – that the Bible is always correct. As we study the Bible we may come across things that do not make sense or we do not understand. We may even come upon things that challenge our beliefs or our world view. But we must accept that the Bible is correct, even if it means we are wrong.

If the Bible is indeed the Word of God it must be always correct. If it is truly divinely inspired then it cannot be wrong. It must stand above all the ideas and opinions of man, including our own. God is never wrong, therefore His Word is never wrong. When we start deciding certain parts of the Bible are wrong we have placed ourselves above God – not a good place to be. The Bible is given by God as a means of revelation. We must allow God’s Word to direct our lives. It starts by approaching it with the firm belief that it is always right.

A Critical Assumption for Bible Study

One of the most important Christian disciplines (think habits) is Bible study. As Christians we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Think about that – “The Word of God” – wow! To correctly and effectively study the Bible we must start with a critical assumption – that the Bible is always correct.

If the Bible is indeed the Word of God, by its very nature it must be, always correct. If it is truly divinely inspired it cannot be wrong. Certainly if one does not believe in God or does not believe the Bible to be divinely inspired there is no logical requirement that it be without error. But if we believe in God and believe that the Word is his means of revelation, it must follow that the Bible is always correct. The only logical set of choices available are whether or not one believes in God and whether he reveals himself through the Word. If a person comes down on the side of belief in God and his choice of revelation through the Word, reasoning demands the acceptance that the Bible is without error.

It is not simply a matter of being error free. The message of the Bible must stand above all the ideas and opinions of man, including our own. God is never wrong, therefore His Word is never wrong. When we start deciding certain parts of the Bible are wrong we have placed ourselves above God – not a good place to be. As we study the Bible we may come across things that do not make sense or we do not understand. We may even come upon things that challenge our beliefs or our world view – sometimes even things we do not like. But we must accept that the Bible is correct, even if it means we are wrong. Our approach to studying God’s Word is to allow it to shape and direct our lives, not validate them. It starts by approaching it with the firm belief that the Bible is always right.