Thursday, April 27, 2006

Our Eternal Purpose

Ephesians 3:10 tells us that God's purpose for the church is for us to make His wisdom known to "the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm". The verse tells us of an "eternal" purpose regarding things that we cannot see with our eyes. There's a spiritual dimension out there that we only know only dimly.

I was reminded of a poem recently called "This Drama Earth". It is based on Ephesians 3:10 and some other Scriptures. It was helpful to me in setting my eyes on that which is not seen and considering things in heaven. I thought that it might be thought-provoking and helpful to share.... so check out this link if you'd like:

"This Drama Earth"

Friday, April 21, 2006

To be a disciple in the Kingdom of God

Luke 14:27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me CANNOT be my disciple.

Luke 14:33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has CANNOT be my disciple.

"Cannot" in the above verses… I’ve always mentally translated it as "not allowed". If you don't carry your cross and if you don't give up everything you will not be allowed to be Jesus' disciple. That is true. He won't let you half-heartedly think you are following him, but there's more to it than that.

Literally, the word "cannot" is "not able". If you don’t deny yourself you are not able to be Jesus’ disciple. You won’t make it. You are not able to follow "in his steps" if you don't deny yourself.

As an example, consider a firefigher's gear:

To be a firefighter, you MUST have very special equipment. A firefighter's jacked and pants is made of a fire resistant material called Nomex. He wears a tank and facemask so that he can have a fresh supply of oxygen in a smoke-contaminated environment. The helmet is made of heat resistant, heavy-duty plastic that protects the firefighter from many types of danger.

So... Anyone who does not wear his Nomex jacket and pants CANNOT be a firefighter. Unless you take up your tank and mask you CANNOT be a firefigher. They will not allow you to be a firefighter AND you would never last as a firefighter. If you tried to be a firefighter you would get burned up; you are not able to do it.

To be a disciple of Jesus you must "carry your cross" and "forsake all". You must lose your life in his in order to find it (Matt. 10:39). These are not just random requirements that Jesus is saying. Jesus wants us to be successful; he died so that we would be successful--so that we would triumph over the devil through Him! He wants us to be his disciple and so he says that we need to carry our cross, we need to deny ourselves, etc. It will be too "hard" for you, if you don't. You won’t be able to stand up against the schemes of the devil. Temptations will prove to be too much. You’ll fail. You won’t last as his disciple. It is impossible—YOU CAN’T DO IT!

And so, Jesus wisely and lovingly has told us what to do so that we CAN be his disciples! Everyone who wants to be a firefighter must take up a firefighter's equipment or else they will get burned up. Everyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus must take up his cross and deny himself or else you'll get defeated by the enemy. "You CANNOT be my disciple."

By the way, you cannot be a "Christian" without being a "disciple". "And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

How We Learn

A couple nights ago when the people of God here were gathered together we were discussing how God teaches us things. There is a great difference between "knowing" something in your head and knowing it deep down in your heart. There is a difference between knowing about love and knowing the "love that surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:19). There is a difference between knowing about peace and actually experiencing and feeling deep down the "peace that passes understanding" (Phil. 4:7). How do we get "information" in our head transferred to deeply embedded sustinence in our hearts?

It seems that God uses experiences to teach us things. Often, words are not enough.

Prov 29:1919 A slave will not be instructed by words alone; For though he understands, there will be no response.

Sometimes words alone are not enough for us to truly understand in our hearts. As an example, take Peter. Jesus said, "Peter you will deny me." And although Peter had seen hundreds of times where Jesus was right, where Jesus predicted what would happen, read men's hearts, etc... although Peter had seen all these things, Jesus' words were not enough. Peter told Jesus that he would never deny Him... even if everyone else did! Peter "knew" that to follow Jesus meant that he had to forsake everything. Peter knew that to follow Jesus he must "die" and "take up his cross". Peter "KNEW" all of that.... in his head. But, did Peter have a deep, firm understanding way down in his heart? Apparently not. But the experiences that would ensue in the next several hours taught Peter about the cost of following Jesus. Jesus had said it many times. Peter had heard the words many times. And now Peter thought he was ready. But he wasn't. I know that after Peter denied Christ and then repented he had a MUCH greater understanding of how much he needs God's grace daily, how weak he is, etc. The experience certainly taught Peter that Jesus' words are absolutely true and trustworthy. The difficult situation was greatly used by God to instruct Peter in a way that was much deeper than "head knowledge."

The Bible says that even Jesus LEARNED obedience by what he suffered (Heb. 5:8). Take a minute and reflect on that. Jesus, the Son of God, LEARNED obedience?!?!?!?! How and why did he have to learn anything???? I certainly don't understand this fully at all, but if we picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane weeping and in great agony, crying out to His Father, "if you are willing, take this cup from me" (Luke 22:42), perhaps we can understand a little better. Jesus already knew everything that was going to happen to him. It was for this purpose that he came. He knew before the "foundation of the world" that he would need to redeem mankind in this way. And yet, when it came down to it and the experience was right at the door, it was hard. Perhaps it was surprisingly difficult for Jesus. He learned a lot about obedience.

And so, what about us? It is not enough to sit and read our Bibles and listen to teaching and to read books.... and to think that we are learning. Learning is going to come from more than "words alone". We will learn through difficult and trying situations. Things that are hard on our flesh.

How do we learn about patience, hope and good character? Through trials (Romans 5:3-4). Yes, we can read an encouraging book on patience... but the heart-level understanding will most likely come from more than words alone.

How much do we REALLY know deep down in our hearts? We know a lot about many things, perhaps. We know that we must "deny ourselves".... but how much experience do we really have in sacrificially denying ourselves? We know the Bible says to consider others more important than ourselves (Phil 2).... but how much experience do we REALLY have in doing that? Think reality here, NOT theory.

Let us be humble in how we view ourselves. Let us not merely tolerate difficulties, let's embrace them and wait expectantly upon God for what he will teach us through them.

James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Be assured it will be more difficult than you think. Right now, you may picture some difficult situations that you may have drawn back from.... The difficulties will be greater than that. But you will also receive many more blessing that you ever can believe. Below is a link to a very encouraging song that talks about these things.

Will You Follow Me?