YOUR CALLING

What is your calling?  How can you be sure?  In reading the New Testament it is obvious that everyone is called to do many things in their Christian life.  Most of the times when our calling is discussed it is something that applies to all followers of Christ alike.  For example, in Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  In 2 Peter 1:10 Peter offered this challenge, “Therefore be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election for if you do these things you will never fall.”  Interestingly the context of both these pleas about our calling regards matters of the heart and character of a person.  In Ephesians he continues by saying, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  In 2 Peter one he had pleaded with them to make every effort to “Supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, at least one major aspect of our calling as disciples of Jesus is to have the heart, the character and the graces that are to characterize one as a follower of Jesus.  If you looked at the heart of Jesus as he walked this earth you could use the very same aspects of character to describe him that both Paul and Peter use to describe the life we are called to live.

But both these Scriptures regarding our calling go further and lay out the goal of living this life we are called to live.  Our calling surrounds the attitude and character described.  But the goal of such a life in the text in Ephesians is to have unity in the body of Christ.  He called it the unity of the Spirit of God that we were to maintain in the bond of peace.  He laid out seven marks of the unity of the Spirit.  “There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you are called in one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith and one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  Notice it is impossible to maintain such unity of the Spirit without we have the heart or attitudes already described in verses 1-3.  But he wasn’t through with his description of the unity that is the goal of our calling in the Lord.  In verse 7 he said, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  He then had a parenthesis to quote from Psalms about Christ ascending on high and giving gifts to men.  In verse 11 he picked back up with the discussion.  “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

So God wants unity in the body attained by having the right attitude, based on seven fundamentals of teaching and on every follower of Christ growing up to do their part in building up the body.  Ultimately the goal is for everyone to reach the point they will speak the truth in love to grow up in Christ and every member does his part to lead to the growth of the body in love.

In 2 Peter one the calling was tied to adding the graces to one’s life and Peter said if we are adding those graces constantly we won’t ever be barren or unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.  One who lacks those virtues in life is blind and near sighted and has forgotten that they were cleansed from the old way of life.

Here is what is powerful it seems to me.  The calling in both passages was to result in bearing fruit for Christ, or growing the body of Christ by reaching others for him.  Every follower of Jesus has a calling from God to be an ambassador for Christ in the world trying to lead others to faith in Jesus.  Far too often we’ve left the impression that the only ones who have a real calling from God are those called to special ministry in full-time work in preaching or ministry in the church.  But if my gift from God is to be a plumber or electrician or lawyer or banker or real estate salesperson or builder or whatever you may think of, then I’m being called by God to do good work, honest, helpful to others and as a good example in that area.  I’m called to use that area of work as a means of reaching out to others with the good news of Jesus.  It always starts with living the life on the job that Christ would have us live.  Imagine Jesus as a carpenter working alongside his dad.  What kind of influence would they have on others if they did shoddy work as carpenters?  Every husband and wife is called of God to be the kind of husband or wife God wants us to be, in order to help our partner in living for God.  Our home is to be a missionary outpost for God.  As parents we are given the huge commission to share the gospel with them and help them come to know Christ and live for him in the world.

You are called of God.  You are called to be a priest of God and a missionary to the people in your world for Christ.  You are called to be an evangelist to your family and friends for God.  You are called to be a great worker at whatever you do to show the difference Jesus makes in your life and to use your influence as a way to get to talk to people about Jesus.  Some may be called to work as a preacher or some other work for the Lord but most of us are called to be a follower of Jesus in our regular way of life.  But all are God called as his children.  Walk in a manner that is worthy of your calling.

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TO LIVE IN HARMONY

What does it take to live in harmony?  I suspect it requires the same things whether one is talking about having harmony in the home, the church, on a sports team or on the job. It is very easy to recognize when harmony is there and to know when it is missing.  Harmony in life or music has a drawing power to it.  But a lack of harmony tends to push people away.  Imagine going to hear a band perform in a local auditorium and as you begin to hear the sounds of sweet music rising from different instruments it hits you like a person striking their thumb with a hammer as discordant notes arise from the instruments.  Instead of being drawn in by the beautiful harmony you are driven from the room where the band is attempting to play.  While beautiful harmony has a drawing power to it and pulls us closer to the music and in the process pulls us closer to each other, discordant music pushes us away.  The same thing is true when the music being played is spiritual rather than physical.

In Romans 15: 5-7 Paul offered the following challenge to the people in Rome.  “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the  God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  One of the amazing things in the Bible is all the different ways particular writers speak of God.  In the Book of Romans we’ve seen God referred to good and severe.  We seen him referred to as the God of all grace and Paul has spoken of his justice and wrath, along with his love. Later in chapter fifteen Paul refers to God as the God of hope.  Paul calls him the only wise God in chapter sixteen.  In verse 20 of chapter 16 he calls him the God of peace who will soon crush Satan under your feet.  All of these, plus many more give us a tremendous amount of references to the nature of God.  Every such description is important and let’s us in on some aspect of God’s nature in his relationship with us as his children.

Focus on the descriptive terms used in our text in Romans 15:4.  He is the God of endurance and encouragement.  He doesn’t give up on us as he works with us to build us up and to keep us away from sins that destroy our harmony in him.  Think of some of the times in your life when you became so discouraged it was hard not to be bitter in your dealings with others.  God’s longing for his children is that we would be in such harmony that being with us draws others to the Him.  The result of God’s longing for us is that he encourages us to grow up in him.  Notice in the verse just before this Paul had reminded them of the things God had written down before hand for our learning that we through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures might have hope.  So the very marks that stand out for the word of God are marks of God’s nature as well.  During the wilderness wandering for the Jews, God became frustrated with the people of Israel because of their constant complaining about everything from food to water, to the desert itself.  He said their constant complaints was discouraging the hearts of his people and warned them to stop the whining and see the blessings that he was providing for them.

But notice that Paul said it was through the endurance and encouragement of God that we can live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together we may with one voice glorify God, the father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul was on the theme of stronger Christians bearing with the failings of the weak.  He had spent all of chapter 14 discussing the whole problem of people judging each other because of their understandings on matters that were of little significance when it came to the real goal of the kingdom of the Lord.  God’s kingdom isn’t about food and drink but about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  But they couldn’t seem to get away from long arguments about what you could eat, drink or what to observe in life.  The result was division in the body and the loss of influence on the world as a whole.  He challenged the ones who saw themselves as strong to not please themselves but to work to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  Let’s face it, such thinking isn’t natural for people of that day or ours.  It is far more natural to focus on what we need and want others to look after our longings.  But selfishness in the body of Christ always results in the total loss of harmony.  When harmony is lost the sounds that are given off by the church are hard to listen to and never serve to draw others to Jesus.

He had pleaded all through chapter fourteen for them to stop judging each other and realize that God was the judge of each of us and our obligation was to please him not each other.  We are God’s servants and it is what he thinks that matters.  He challenged us to follow our conscience in matters that God hasn’t given clear teaching on what is right or wrong.  His final challenge on how the strong Christians should conduct themselves in the body was, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  What if the church were made up only of people that I personally welcomed in with enthusiasm?  Our sense of welcome is too often limited to people that are a lot like us.  Yet God looked at a Saul of Tarsus, who was blaspheming him and trying to destroy his people and welcomed him into the family.  He welcomed Gentiles, he welcomed those with major moral problems, with family problems and who struggled with addiction.  Look closely at I Corinthians 6:9-11 at people who were headed away from God whom God invited into the kingdom.  They were sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers.  Many in the Corinthian church had lived that kind of life, but now they were washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God.

Jesus died for all people and his graces reaches out to all people.  He sent the gospel message out to every creature in every ethnic group in every part of the world.  But if people ever come to the Lord it will largely depend on the welcome they get from those who are in the church already.  When we welcome those very different from us God is glorified, and the people in the body of Christ live in such harmony that it sends out a beautiful sound that attracts more people from around the world.  God help us to produce such harmony as your people today.

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WALKING IN ANOTHER’S SHOES

With Mother’s Day approaching it is easy to think of multiple examples of putting oneself in another’s place.  The very best example of such empathy is Jesus when he as God, willingly emptied himself of many of the powers and privileges of deity to become a human with all our pains, struggles, concerns and temptations.  His humanity was just as real as his deity and for one to deny either is to be “anti-Christ.”  When Isaiah looked down through time to the day of Jesus entering this world as a man he said he would be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  He understood well the disappointment of having those dear to you turn their backs on you and walk away.  He knew the challenge of being doubted, questioned and all of your motives being misjudged.  Yet, he willingly took on him our sins and went to the cross to pay the price for our sins so we can be forgiven and renewed to full fellowship with God.

I suspect the the second best illustration of empathy in life is a good mother who feels her child’s pains and sorrows and hurts alongside them with every problem they go through.  Often that mother is still hurting for her child long after the child has gotten over the pain and gone on with their activities.  When her child is honored in life, she feels honored.  When they are discouraged, she is discouraged.  It may be that nine months a child spends in the mother’s womb that brings on such empathy or the months at her breast as she feeds the child and bonds with them in unity.  But I suspect it goes deeper even than those things in that it is common to see the mother who adopted a child who was already past those times in life will still feel with them in all the same ways.

But here is the challenge of life.  How can we who aren’t God in the flesh and aren’t mother’s feel that kind of empathy in life toward the one who shares life with us as our wife or even with our children, friends or brothers and sisters in Christ?  It is rather easy in life to feel sympathetic toward others in their times of stress and difficulty.  I can shed tears with the other person and pray for them in their troubles.  I can even look at their difficulties and offer solutions to them.  As a matter of fact most of us as men are quick to offer our wives solutions when they wish to tell us of something that is really bothering them.  Quite often we are sure we know the solution to their problems even before they have gotten started good in telling us what is bothering them.  Our readiness to share the solution normally leaves the wife frustrated and wondering what in the world is wrong with this man they are married to that they can’t just listen and allow them to pour out their concerns without rushing in with the answer.

Remember Jesus in the great Sermon on the Mount giving us what we know as the Golden Rule.  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)  Focus on this command for a moment with me.  The word “So” at the beginning ties the command to the previous thoughts about prayer.  Jesus had said to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” He then offered some commentary on the statement illustrating it by asking if our son asked for bread, would we give him a stone or if he asked for a fish would we give him a snake?  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Luke’s account of the same lesson changes the good gifts that the Father gives us to the Holy Spirit that God gives us when we ask.  Then he added the “So” and the golden rule.  How does the golden rule fit with the whole prayer discussion?  The fact that God answers our prayers by giving what we ask for and often even more or better than we ask.  If we are to be like him we must apply that same heart to others in our life.

Think of how to apply the principle.  There are things in life that I like one way that many others like very differently.  For example, if I were giving to my wife what I wanted it would likely be a peanut butter pie but if I want to give her what would please her it wouldn’t be a peanut butter pie at all but something chocolate.  Now the whole point on eating is simply to illustrate that when we observe this way of living it isn’t about doing for others exactly what we want but looking for the things in life they love and long for and striving to fulfill their longings rather than our own.  If we simply give to our wives the things we would want, it becomes the ultimate act of selfishness.  But when we forget what we would like or want and work to get for them what they would truly love we are observing the golden rule for life.  When we do so we fulfill the very heart and action that God was driving at when he gave us the law and the prophets.

Try something today that can make your marriage the best it has ever been.  Try putting yourself in your partner’s place and seeing things through their eyes for a while.  It is certainly easy in marriage to be frustrated at our partner because they don’t do things the way we like and they don’t have the same attitude we do.  When we fail to see from their point of view we set the marriage up for misery, failure and complete ruin.  When we learn to feel things as they do, see things as the see them and observe their feelings, hurts and joys and have the emotions they have in them, our mate feels loved and accepted where they are.  Such actions build trust and lay the ground work for forgiveness, peace of mind and genuine intimacy in the marriage.

“Have this attitude in you that was also in Christ who being in very nature God, didn’t see equality with God as something to be grasped.  But he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

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A HOME FOR GOD

If you were looking for a model Christian couple to talk with about their marriage and what made it work so well and you could interview anyone whether alive or dead, whether you know them from history, from Scripture or from life, who would you choose?  I usually, in doing pre-marital counseling will ask couples to find someone who has been married for at least 30 years who isn’t in their family and talk with them about their marriage and any suggestions they have.  I think if I could visit with any couple from any time, I would love to spend a day with Aquila and Priscilla to talk about their marriage.  There is no evidence that they ever had any children, but if that was ever a source of conflict or problem we aren’t told about it.  What we know about them is that they were a Jewish couple who had lived in Rome but were natives of Pontus.  During the reign of Claudius they along with all other Jews were commanded to leave Rome and they settled for a time in Corinth.  It was there they came into contact with the apostle Paul.  Paul stayed with them for a time and worked with them as fellow tentmakers.  Most likely it was during that time they came to know Christ and committed their lives to him.

From that time forward every time we hear of Aquila and Priscilla, they are together and they are using their home in the work of God.  They left Corinth at the same time Paul did, but they settled in Ephesus for a time.  It was there they met Apollos who was mighty in the Scriptures and preached Jesus with power.  Many were being reached by the preaching of Apollos, but he had one significant problem.  He only knew of the baptism of John.  When they heard him they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.  When he wished to cross over to Achaea, the church encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.  At this point they were still rather young in the faith.  But they were committed to the degree they were ready to help one who had more general knowledge of the Scriptures than they did and had much more ability in proclaiming the word than them.  But they longed to help him, not embarrass him in any way.  So they took him aside in a private meeting to explain some things to him more clearly.  It has been pointed out that in this effort Luke puts Priscilla’s name first and then Aquila, which likely means she was the one who led in the discussion and correction of Apollos.  But there was no question it was a partnership in all they did.

When Paul wrote the church in Rome, Priscilla and Aquila were there again.  Notice how he writes of them, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.  Greet also the church in their house.”  Prisca is likely a shortened version of Priscilla and shows the familiarity Paul felt for both of them.  This godly couple had become known and appreciated throughout the Gentile churches for their good work.  Their home became the meeting place for the church wherever they traveled.  Later when Paul wrote the church in Corinth he said of Priscilla and Aquila “The churches of Asia send you greetings.  Aquila And Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.”  Later when he wrote to Timothy in his second and final letter to him, before his execution he mentioned Aquila and Priscilla one more time.

What made this couple stand out so much in Paul and Luke’s minds as they wrote about them?  They were in many ways it seems an ordinary working couple who committed their lives to Jesus.  So far as we know Aquila never preached and nothing is ever said of Priscilla prophesying like the daughters of Phillip or some of the women in Corinth.  But they made a difference for the cause of Christ wherever they went.  There is no evidence that they ever sought the spotlight.  Instead the way they handled the correction of Apollos indicates they avoided the spotlight.  Instead they wanted to help him in the quietest way they possibly could and still accomplish the task of helping him know the truth of God’s word.

This couple stands out as a tremendous example of a great marriage committed to God.  Instead of majoring in what they didn’t have or what they couldn’t do, they focused on what they could do in service to God.  They could turn their home into a place where people could come to worship and praise God.  Long before church buildings were ever thought of, they house was a worshiping place.  It just seems that wherever they lived, they quickly turned their home into a place for the church to meet.  They stand out as a powerful missionary couple for the Lord long before there were churches sending people out.  They didn’t need a missionary society to send them.  They earned their living wherever they went as tentmakers and used their contacts with people to tell them about Jesus.

This was a time when a couple who didn’t have children were often seen as not being blessed by God.  But they seemed to simply be drawn closer to God the whole time and closer to each other.  It seems that they worked together each day as tentmakers and then shared their life of faith with the world.

What a powerful lesson for every person.  We can either major in the things that don’t seem to work out for us and all the abilities we don’t have or we can major in the blessings God has given us.  We can look for the good things that are part of life and we can use our work, our home and our lives as a means of serving and worshiping God.  I would love to have a day to just visit in their home and watch their actions and pray with them around their table.  I believe it would be an inspiring day.

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WHICH HAD YOU RATHER BE?

There is no question that Jesus was the worlds greatest story teller.  He told stories about ordinary people dealing with ordinary problems and challenges of life and in the stories taught us about the kingdom of the Lord and how to live for him.  One of my favorite of the stories of Jesus is a rather short one found in Luke 18:9-14.  Luke introduces the story like this: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”  Knowing the background and the audience to which Jesus pointed the story helps us see the point of it even more clearly.  Think about the two people who were the actors in his story. One was a Pharisee and thus from the highly respected religious class of the day.  The word Pharisee means separate and shows the character of these people in that they tended to separate themselves from others whom they considered less righteous and less scriptural in their thinking.  In our time we would likely refer to these people as the religious conservatives.  They were sure that the Bible they had was right and that they had a true handle on how to interpret those Scriptures.  The other person Jesus mentioned was a tax collector and this was a class of people who were looked down on by society in the whole Jewish world.  They were regarded as traitors to their people who worked for the Romans and were usually seen as being dishonest as well and probably as thieves.  You would naturally expect if a story was told of these two people then the hero would be the Pharisee and the culprit the tax collector.  But Jesus stories seldom went the way people expected.

Here is the story: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:  ‘God, I think you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What did Jesus want us to learn from this story?  No doubt he intended it to be a shock to the crowd.  Pharisees were the spiritual elites.  They were the leaders whom people listened to, imitated and sought out their advise.  But Jesus longed to get us to see that a religion that leads us to arrogance is a false religion and our faith is more in ourselves than in God who saves.  Our faith should never lead to feelings of superiority where we think we are better than other people around us.  Instead our faith should lead us to be more aware all the time of our own sins and failures and how amazing God’s grace really is that he would save someone with all the problems and sins that we have.  Every time a person begins thinking that they are really good, righteous and exemplary in their faith and service to God it leads to treating others with contempt.  So, today, because of stories like this and other encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees, these religious leaders that were so highly respected then are seen as nothing but hypocrites.  One of the worst insults you can use is to call a person a Pharisee.

Notice how the man spoke even to God.  He stood, praying to God, about how thankful he was that he wasn’t like other men.  He wasn’t an extortioners.  Likely he was thinking, “Like this tax collector.”  I’m not unjust, or an adulterer.  Then he really became clear in his thoughts, “I’m not like this tax collector.”  You can visualize the poor tax collector standing off by himself, hearing this religious teacher praying and feeling all the more down on yourself as a sinner.  It is always a dangerous thing when we use our prayers as a forum to tell God and the world how great we are.  Too often we stop making our pleas to The God of the Universe and began making speeches to him or more likely to the the people who can hear us.  In such prayers we use the mode of prayer to preach to the crowd rather than appeal to God.

Why would anyone begin to think of themselves as being better than others and even one that God should respect for how good we really are?  Look at his reasoning.  “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”  So his fasting and giving were the positive points he had to offer to show that he was superior to others in faith.   What is the purpose of fasting anyway?  Fasting was taught by God through the years as a way to give complete focus on God and his will for our lives.  Jesus warned us when we fast to not look like we are fasting and not to go around announcing our fasting to others.  Look and act as though nothing is happening so that your doing without is between you and God, not some bragging point for you.  When fasting becomes a means of comparison to others of faith it is being abused and doing far more harm than good.

God also always taught people to give to the Lord.  The tithe typically had to do with giving ten percent of our income to the Lord.  He declared that he paid tithes of all that he had.  On another occasion when Jesus was talking to Pharisees and other religious leaders among the Jews he said, “Woe unto you scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites for you pay tithes of mint, and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.  You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel “(Matthew 23:23-24).  Both giving and fasting should draw us closer to God, should show appreciation to God for his blessings and acknowledge that all things come from him.  But when they become matters to brag about they are completely off the chart of what God asked of us.  So the Pharisee informed God and the world how great he was and that wasn’t very great at all.

The tax collector reacted to God in the very opposite way.  He felt deeply his guilt.  He couldn’t even raise his eyes to God but beat his chest praying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  He didn’t claim any merit.  He didn’t see God as owing him anything.  He was instead overwhelmed at the thought that God could love and show grace to him in spite of the sin and failure in his life.  The world would likely have looked on the Pharisee and thought how great he was and went away admiring him while looking at the tax collector with contempt, wondering how he could even bear to come into the house of God and offer up prayers or giving to him.

Jesus gave his clear assessment.  “This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  For everyone that exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  We might think that it is hard to impress God. We can’t give him anything he needs.  We can’t tell him anything he doesn’t know.  We can’t show him anything he hasn’t seen many times before.  So to exalt ourselves in his presence is one of the most foolish and ridiculous acts we can ever imagine doing.  What does touch and move the heart of God?  When we humbly cry out to him for mercy and declare our unworthiness, he hears and answers us.  As a matter of faith, when we humble ourselves God exalts us but when we exalt ourselves he will humble us.

Maybe we should take a long, hard look at who we admire and who we look down on with contempt in life.  We may find that we are honoring ones God holds in contempt and showing contempt toward those whom God exalts and honors in this world and the one to come.

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A FOLLOWER

Are you a follower?  In our day most would certainly need to respond that they are followers since they follow hundreds of different people on social media.  But you could easily turn around and discuss how many people are following you.  The truth is we may both be following hundreds of people we don’t really know and have hundreds who follow us that we wouldn’t know if they walked into the room.  Imagine reading Jesus commands to “Follow me” in light of all the ways we discuss following someone in our time.  Would his command fit at all with how we use the word today?  I don’t think we would see it the same way.

Jesus was making a huge challenge to everyone who considered discipleship with him.  If  you think of him calling people to become fishers of men who had been fishing for fish it was a massive change involved.  Imagine Peter and Andrew, James and John all out on the Sea of Galilee.  It started with the use of Peter’s boat as a teaching platform.  Peter and likely Andrew had fished all night without catching a single fish.  Then Jesus borrowed the boat to talk with the people.  After his sermon he told Peter to cast out into the deep where he could get a catch of fish.  Peter launched out into the deep water saying he had fished all night and caught nothing, “Nevertheless, when Peter put out his nets they became so full of fish he was having trouble getting them back into the boat.  When Peter realized what had happened he fell before Jesus in the bow of the boat among all the fish saying. “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man.”  Jesus said to him and Andrew and later to James and John, “Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men.”  Later he was beside the Sea of Galilee where Matthew had his tax office.  As he was sitting among the people collecting the taxes Jesus challenged him to follow him.  He left the tax table and prepared a great feast for Jesus, inviting all his tax collector friends.  When he was criticized by the religious leaders for eating with these tax collectors and sinners Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy that need a physician but those who are sick.  He challenged them by pointing out that you can’t put new wine into old wineskins or a new patch on an old garment or the new wine will begin to expand and burst the wineskins or the patch will draw up and tear way from the old garment.  His teaching and actions wouldn’t fit the wineskins of the Old Law or the attitudes of the religious leaders of the time.

Imagine what would have entered the mind of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew when they heard the charge from Jesus to “Follow me.”  Would they have thought this to be some casual following that meant to check up every few weeks to see what he had posted on Facebook?  Would they have seen his request as a small change that wouldn’t affect their life very much?  I think it would have been miles from such an attitude.  They knew this rabbi was calling them to a totally changed life.  They knew they were changing their whole way of thinking and acting in the world.  They were leaving behind family, friends, neighbors and setting out on a mission that would change their whole lives.

In Luke 9:57-62 there is a great discussion of following Jesus.  “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’  Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Think of each of these for a moment.  The first obviously was ready to make a commitment without understanding the depth of the commitment.  He would follow Jesus everywhere.  But Jesus didn’t want anyone making a strong commitment to him who didn’t know what he was saying.  So, he made it clear that following him involved a strong commitment.  It meant living without many of the conveniences of life.  It meant putting him ahead of other things of life.  It often meant going where there wasn’t a comfortable house or bed or even a good meal to share.

Jesus turned to the second to say “Follow me.”  He obviously saw in the man a great potential to serve him and be with him.  The very fact he challenged him to follow him probably means he felt he was ready to turn his back on the world and the pull of the world and set out as one of the apostles to follow him.  But he needed to do something first.  “Let me first go and bury my father.”  Most likely this was a case of a dad who had died some months earlier and they were waiting for the time they could dig him up and retrieve the bones to put them into an ossuary to preserve the bones.  So when Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you follow me” it wasn’t the idea that he couldn’t take off for a few hours for the burial of his father.  It was the notion of waiting for a year or so after his death to dig up the bones to rebury them.  Following Jesus was never intended to be something one did when he got around to it.  It was the priority of life.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

The third man was ready to follow but needed to go tell the family good bye.  It was a delay.  It was a loss of priority.  It was like trying to hire someone for a job and them saying how anxious they are to work for you but can they wait for three months while they take a trip with their family.  Jesus response was to tell him he missed it altogether.  One who puts their hand to the plough and looks back isn’t fit for the kingdom.

When Jesus calls us to follow him it is huge.  He is calling us for a life, a passion and a mission.  He is calling us to take on his image.  We have no idea how Jesus looked physically.  But we can take on his image in love, in compassion, in grace and kindness.  We can care about people the way he does and always see in people possibilities they don’t see for themselves.  The world needs tons of people who are like Jesus, who follow him in everything.  Are you ready to follow him?

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HIS TOMB IS EMPTY

It is odd to read the story of Jesus being crucified even though he was innocent of any crimes.  He was tempted in every way like we are, yet never gave in to the temptation and was never guilty of a single sin.  Even when the religious leaders tried their hardest to come up with something he had done wrong, they couldn’t get the witnesses against him to agree about anything he had done wrong.  But that didn’t matter.  He didn’t fit their image of what the Messiah was supposed to be like.  So, they led him to Pilate the Roman Governor to be tried.  There the charges against him seem to float off in every direction.   He realized it was because of envy that they had delivered him.  But, when they shouted that he made himself a king instead of Caesar, it became obvious to Pilate he had to deal with the charges or it would cause him problems.  Even with his wife pleading with him to have nothing to do with this just man because she had suffered many things that night about him in a dream, Pilate knew he couldn’t risk having someone else claiming to be king instead of Caesar.  When he asked Jesus about being king, Jesus had explained that his kingdom wasn’t from this world and that if it was his servants would fight but his kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, in no conflict with Caesar.  Still Pilate felt pressed into the corner and came out with Jesus having been scourged by the soldiers.  They had placed a crown of thorns on his head, put a reed in his hand and mocked him, bowing before him, hitting him over the head saying if he was the Christ then tell who had hit him.  Now he was ready to be crucified.  They marched him through the streets with the cross beam on his back and Simon carrying the rest of the cross.  When they reached Golgotha they nailed him to the cross and hung him between two thieves.  For about six hours he hung on the cross, agonizing as he took each breath.  Finally, he declared “It is finished” and yielded up his spirit and died.

Joseph of Arimathea asked for his body and prepared it for burial.  He along with Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night buried Jesus body in a new tomb that had been prepared for Joseph.  The religious leaders went to Pilate asking for guards to be placed outside the tomb to make certain the disciples didn’t come and steal the body, pretending he had been raised from the dead.  They sealed the rock to the entrance of the tomb and placed guards outside to make certain there was no escape.  Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and some of the other women came to the tomb intending to anoint the body with spices and prepare it better for burial.  As they were approaching the tomb they began to ask each other what they would do to get the stone over the entrance rolled away so they could take care of the body.  It was a heavy stone and they knew they weren’t strong enough to move it.  But when they arrived the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty.  Instead of the body of Jesus there were angels there telling them, “He is not here.  He is risen and gone before the disciples into Galilee as he promised.”  When they rushed back to where the apostles were hiding for fear of the Jews, to tell them he had been raised, they didn’t believe them.  Peter and John ran to the tomb to check it out for themselves, but they too found the tomb empty.

Later that day two disciples were on their way to Emmaus when Jesus joined them.  God had closed their eyes to who Jesus was, so that they didn’t recognize him.  As they walked along they were bemoaning what had happened to Jesus.  Jesus asked them what they were groaning about.  They told of Jesus the prophet whom they had believed was the messiah but the religious leaders had him crucified.  Now some of the women had said he was raised from the dead and when two of the disciples went to the tomb they too found it empty and they couldn’t understand it all.  Jesus explained to them how the Scripture had to be fulfilled and it was in God’s plan always that the Savior would die for the sins of the world.  It wasn’t until they reached Emmaus and sat down to eat with Jesus and he took bread, broke it and gave thanks to God for it that they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.  He disappeared from them and they talked about how their hearts had burned within them as he explained to them to Scriptures.  They rushed back to the city to tell the other disciples what had happened.  There Jesus appeared to the whole group and showed them the scars in his hands and feet to help them know he had truly been raised from the dead.  Even Thomas who had declared he wouldn’t believe unless he could put his hands into Jesus side and see the print of the nails in his hands, saw and believed, declaring to him, “My Lord and My God.”

Why does it matter so much whether Jesus was really raised from the dead or not?  Because it is in the resurrection from the dead that he conquered Satan.  He went down into death with Satan and if the devil could maintain him as dead, he won.  Sin has no cure and we are all doomed.  It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope.  It shows the power of God and good over Satan, sin and death.  It is by the resurrection of Jesus that God’s power is demonstrated.  In Romans 1:4 it says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.  When Paul prayed for us to know the amazing power of God that is available in our lives in Ephesians 1:14-22 he said it was the power God demonstrated when he raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his own right hand in the heavenly realms.  The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope for the future.  In I Corinthians 15 Paul laid out the gospel as being centered in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  He said, “If in this life only we have hope we are of all people most to be pitied.”  Then he said he had been raised from the dead and appeared to many different people including over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom were still alive when he wrote that letter. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee that we too will be raised from the dead.  In I Corinthians 15:20-28 he said, “As in Adam, all die even so in Christ will all be made alive, but each in his own order.  Christ the first fruits, afterward those who belong to Christ when he comes again.  When we are baptized we reenact the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).  In Colossians 3:1-4 Paul wrote “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

The resurrection is far more than just a holiday that we are to remember one time a year.  It is more than hunting eggs and dressing up for church services.  The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of Christianity itself.  Without it we only have a great teacher in Jesus who died an awful death he didn’t deserve.  The resurrection makes it all come together as God’s plan put into effect that offers salvation to all people.  In I John 3:1-3 it says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  There reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  When we meet Jesus in his second coming we will be made like him in his resurrection from the dead.  Amazing!

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