ECHOES INTO ETERNITY
“What is the essence of what really matters in our daily life? What is it that we do today that makes a difference for Eternity?”
“The Things We Do In Life Echo Into Eternity” General Maximus,The Gladiator
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996.
Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc. Wheaton Illinois, 60189.
The Most Important Thing
“The Gladiator” won the Oscar for “Best Movie” of the year 2000, and the noble hero of the story, General Maximus, won our hearts with his bold character and selfless deeds. One of the most significant scenes is at the beginning of the film, when General Maximus’ legion is about to battle the Germans. If you saw the movie, you will remember this moment. After preparing his infantry troops for battle, and checking the catapults, General Maximus rides off into the woods and addresses the cavalry.
“Hold the line!” he commands. “Stay with me!” he shouts. And after a few more comments, when all is quiet, he looks into the camera and declares: “The things we do in life echo into eternity.”
With this statement, Maximus touched a cord in all of us that radiates from the heart of God Himself. Why? Because our Creator God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). At our very core being, we all want to do something that will last longer than our lifetime. Look at how this desire has manifested itself in our lives:
- We may be involved in great construction projects, building towering skyscrapers;
- We might be inventors of labor saving devices, the next new supercomputer;
- We could accumulate great wealth, filling Swiss and Cayman banks;
- We may write stories that will become classical literature- the next Winnie The Poohseries perhaps;
- We might star in movies that will touch millions- a modern Casablanca, The Good The Bad & The Ugly, or Rush Hour 2.
- We might train for years to win an Olympic Gold Medal.
Over the past few years, we have traveled to the Middle East to examine the remains of ancient cultures. We have seen the remains of grand construction projects– Herod’s great seaport at Caesarea, his palace at Masada. We have seen partial fresco paintings on ancient walls, mosaics in long buried floors. We have read pottery records of business transactions, and monuments commemorating athletic competitions. But for the most part, with few exceptions, most of those individuals have long been forgotten, their life’s efforts relegated to the dust of archeological digs.
General Maximus said that “The things we do in life echo into eternity”. This is an actual quote from the Roman writer Ovid, a contempory of Caesar Augustus who lived during the time of Christ. As we look at his life, and the lives of all the other writers, painters, sculptors, athletes, politicians, merchants, scientists, and others, it is obvious that there is only one area of endeavor that will bear fruit not only in this world but the next; only one that will affect those in this dimension as well as all the others, and send echoes into eternity. What is it? Simply put, “It” is Christian Discipleship.
A disciple is a pupil or follower of any teacher or school of religion, learning, art, etc. The first followers of Jesus were called “disciples”. The Greek word most often translated in English for “disciple” is Mathētēs, which is defined by the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semetic Domains as:
- follower, often a disciple who is a believer and close follower, though other less committed relationships are indicated
- pupil, student, one tutored, implying a closer relationship than mere information.
Discipleship is a process of acquiring knowledge or skill; A process of learning and teaching; A process of imparting. Note the key word: Process. Discipleship involves change and maturity; It requires dedication and effort. The root word is Discipline – training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency.
For a Christian, discipleship is the process where by God’s character overtakes us, and becomes part of us. However this process is in direct conflict with our inherent “natural” processes, which area influenced by the values of our world, and our inherited “sin nature” that is a part of every human being. Paul describes this conflict to his friends in Galatia;
So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.
Here is the conflict- God’s Spirit and our sin nature.
17The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. 18But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.
Paul now describes what happens when we live our life by our own desires:
19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, 20idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Now Paul describes the contrasting character of God manifested through His Holy Spirit:
22But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.
Here are the Fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. These are not spiritual gifts, but rather spiritual fruits- the result of a process of cultivation. Like all fruits, these need to be cultivated. The first step in this process of cultivation is to recognize “bad fruit” in our lives, and take steps to pull it out by the roots. Paul compares this “rooting out” to a common practice in his time: execution by crucifixion.
24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Gal 5:16-24
This is all about a process of “dying to ourselves” so that Christ can actually life through us. As I have meditated on this process, I realize that I am literally a cage that has the Living God trapped inside me. Remember what Paul told His friends in Colossae:
27For it has pleased God to tell his people that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. For this is the secret: Christ lives in you, and this is your assurance that you will share in his glory. Col 1:27
Christ is literally living in us. However there is a cage that is constructed of my experiences (good and bad), my beliefs, my world-view, and most of all my free will. This is a very strong cage that keeps the living God trapped inside me. The secret is to learn to recognize when these natural traits are controlling my behavior, and begin to not respond to them, but to the urges of Christ inside me. When I deny my own feelings and desires, and instead obey the wishes of my Lord, then I literally open the door of my cage, and Jesus escapes to touch the people around me. The situation is immediate changed. Circumstances do not dictate my situation. He does! It is His perspective that counts, and His actions that will make the difference. That is why we have to die to ourselves so that Christ can live through us. Here is one of Laura’s favorite verses.
I have been crucified with Christ. I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal 2:19-20
When I met Laura, she was a haircutter at a salon in Kihei Maui. Being in this profession of making people look good, Laura always set the standard. Having spent some time modeling, and participating in the Cherry Blossom Festival (where she was awarded “Miss Congeniality”!) Laura knew fashion. She dressed exquisitely for her work. She owned her home on Maui, and drove a nice car. Her degree from the University of Hawaii proclaimed her as a “Magna Cum Laude” graduate in Social Work. This girl had many accomplishments to be proud of.
Then she married me and moved from a comfortable life in Maui to living in a refugee village in Honduras where there was no running water or electricity. There was only three others people who spoke English, and they could not pronounce her name correctly. The Miskito people in the village called “Maim Maik”- Maik’s woman. That was her identity. Nobody cared that she could do hair or that she graduated from university with “High Honors”. She wore bush clothes (with style) and could not communicate with hardly anyone but me. Her Hawaiian identity was dead, and nobody cared, except her. This was truly a time of dying to self for Laura, and yet in the midst, she had experiences with God that caused her luxurious life in Hawaii to pale in comparison. Listen as she describes this journey.
Life has been a continual dying and resurrecting experience for me. Prior to my move to be “Maim Maik”, I remember a distinct moment in time when I felt the urgent need to lay my life down once again. I was seemingly doing well at the time with my life “in order” according to the standard of the world and even as a “Christian”. I was trying to influence my fair share of “converts” or disciples, had an excellent church, great job, friends, community, house and yet I found myself in a place of relative “boredom” somewhere deep within me. I felt like I needed more, but I didn’t know exactly what I needed more of…I figured I would take a trip to England to further my hair training and spend some time seeing the country side in Scotland. It was an excellent trip and I thought surely this would spruce up my life considerably. Still, one day at the shampoo bowl, I realized there was still a sense of “wanting” within me. I felt desperate. When I got home that night, I layed myself out on the floor and cried out to God. I don’t know what that prayer was exactly, but it went something like, “Lord I don’t even know what I need or want but I know that you do. I want to be and do whatever you want me to…” In essence I felt that a huge part of me died and I was allowing Christ to live in me realizing that He was my only hope. I anticipated that He would be doing what He wanted to be doing in me. I gave it up. I crucified and delivered myself up to him. It was a choice I made that night that took me on the next wave I was to ride.
When I married Michael and moved out of all of my identity comforts like my home, ability to communicate and understand, the sense that people valued me or my skills and any other thing that was familiar to me, I began to understand what death was and the character building experience of obedience even if “I didn’t feel like it”. I didn’t feel like getting into our little airplane to fly out because I threw up every time I got into our plane. I didn’t want to, but knew I had to get in, endure, get out and do it again and again and try to overcome. I didn’t’ like following my husband around to all the hardware stores…He walked too fast and every where we went it seemed like we had to wait. The only thing that kept me going was my thought that: I will do it for you, Lord. I am willing for you. I remembered well the night I layed out and said, “Anything for you Lord…I am ready. Take me.”
I always had my “willing” and obedient for you mantra before the Lord…He knew how much I hated it, but he also knew how it would build endurance and character in me and as I gave myself to the process it did. Gradually I noticed that I no longer was so sensitive with movement. He gave us a new plane which provided a smoother ride and no more throwing up. He also amused me with the best pregnancies ever…not one day of nausea for four children….And I am a very fast walker now.
Over time I have had to face death to many of my own expectations and plans in my life. Death to my own rights to things that I believe I have the right to. Death to trying to control my life because I realize more and more that I am totally not in control even in times that I think I am.
I am always dying to my own ideals and the thoughts that life will be in order soon. The fact is that my life is chaotic, busy and often overwhelming. We are always in situations where the bite is bigger than the ability to chew on my own. I am always in need of God to break it down for me and ease my perspective with His. Only when I have His life alive and breathing in Me can I get by.
I constantly feel desperate for God’s touch and life to make a difference for me but I know that I have to get out of the way in order to receive it.
This process of dying to ourselves is necessary if we are going to truly live a life full of God. We all get to a point in our relationship with our “Lord” where we realize that there will be a big cost to this process in our own personal lives, that is if we allow Him to be The Lord. Jesus himself said:
If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it. Matthew 10:38-39
Understanding these verses in the context of First Century life takes us to a dangerous point: To follow Christ means to die to yourself, and truly pursue him. In First Century Jerusalem, the only people “taking up a cross” were condemned prisoners on their way to their execution. They were “dead men walking”. Disciples pay the ultimate price to follow Christ. They die to themselves. However, according to Jesus, it is only through this “death to self” that we actually realize true life.
Jesus gives us a good description of what happens when a disciple is totally given over to this process, and realizes the effect of sin in his life and the lives of those around him.
1When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:1-9
Many view this passage as an idealistic view of what disciples should be, with a feeling of “I could never become that.” However, there are a few keywords in the original Greek language that help us understand the passage as Jesus’ audience received it. These keywords build upon each other and must be viewed in a “progressive” sense.
The word “Blessed” is “makarioi”, which is a poetic word that gives a sense of a “transcendent happiness of a life beyond care, labour and death” (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) and indicates qualities of God. This word refers to the joy that is experienced by having a relationship with God and inclusion in His Kingdom.
“Poor in Spirit” is “ptochoes” which refers to a helpless person, who has no physical resources, and is unable to help himself. This is the first step in “Blessedness”. It usually results after an encounter with God where we truly experience Him, but we go on living our lives for ourselves. We experience the contrast of these two lifestyles: The glow of God’s touch in our lives, followed by the shallowness of self-centered living. After cycles of living with God, and then living for ourselves, we realize where we belong, but our inability to get there through our own power. This is “ptochoes” in the spiritual sense. It is the first step to a complete surrender of our lives to God.
“Those Who Mourn” is “hoi penthoutes” which in this context means to lament and have sorrow for one’s sins as well as the sins of others.
“Gentle” is “prautes”, which according to Aristotle, is the position between getting angry without reason, and not getting angry at all. In this context, prautes means “having anger at sin”. One who is physically and spiritually bankrupt, and who has suffered the consequences of sin, and who mourns the effect of sin on his life and the lives of those around him, becomes angry at sin.
“Hunger and Thirst” is “peinao” and “dipsao”, and according to Strong’s Lexiconmeans to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire and those who are said to thirst who painfully feel their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened, which in this case is dikaiosyne or Righteousness.Strong’s defines dikaiosyne as integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting.
Merciful is eleēmōn, which translates kindness and goodwill toward those afflicted by sin, and indicates a desire to help. This is the attitude of one who has personally felt the affects of sin, is sorry for it, has become angered by it, and is now living his life in an active personal campaign against it. “Eleos” (mercy) allows Christians to have compassion on the sinful, unsaved people around them, with a willingness to help them. It is the heart of a missionary.
Pure of Heart is “katharos kardia”, and indicates a purification by fire or the condition of a vine that has been pruned and is ready to bear fruit. It is the result of this process of recognizing one’s own spiritual helplessness, and the sorrow for sin and anger at the effects of sin, combined with the desire to live a righteous life and having compassion for those caught up in sin.
“Peacemakers” (eirēnopoios) are not just those who stop fights, but rather those who bring the peace of God that they have experienced to those around who have yet to receive it.
Understanding these characteristics of disciples in the context of the original language gives us a more realistic view of our own experience with God, as He opens our eyes to our own process of having God’s character become our character.
Christian Discipleship takes atheists and agnostics and transforms them into ministers and missionaries. The result is greater intimacy with God, and greater effectiveness in the Kingdom of God. Discipleship is the only thing we can do that will echo into eternity.
On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 NAS
What is our motivation to be involved in discipleship?
Perhaps our lives have been touched directly by the Lord. This is certainly the Biblical model. Most of those who were healed or delivered, became “followers” of Jesus. Well-to-do or the dregs of society- it didn’t make a difference. Once Jesus touched them, they became disciples. Maybe we have already built the skyscrapers, accumulated the material resources, acquired the fame, and realize that it really doesn’t measure up or fill the void. Our world is full of men and women who have turned to Christ after achieving success in the world’s eyes. Possibly we have realized that living our lives without God has been chaotic and meaningless. That is certainly the testimony of many of my generation. Or finally we realize that being part of God’s Grand Plan is the most incredible opportunity that we have!
This was the case for me. After years of flying fast jets in the Navy, skiing incredible mountains in Colorado and Europe, and enjoying many of the ultimate pleasures of this life, I was astounded to discover that God was inviting me to be part of His Big Plan for Eternity. Suddenly I had purpose!
14 When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. 17 And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3: 14-19
What keeps us from being involved in discipleship? I met a lady who was standing in line behind me at the post office who was bemoaning the fact that her house was “in a mess”. Nothing was in its normal place; they couldn’t sit on their living room couch; the air conditioning was not working; they couldn’t cook in the kitchen. When I asked her why, she replied: “We’re remodeling”.
I replied, “Well, I guess that you have to keep in mind the final result so that you can actually enjoy the process of tearing down walls, and building it back more beautiful than before.”
There is a great price to pay in this process of discipleship. It cost us personal comfort, personal convenience, personal preference, and personal ambition. Jesus tells us that what the Kingdom of Heaven offers us in comparison is worth everything we have.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field—and to get the treasure, too!
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it! Matthew 13:34
King Solomon, one of the most wealthy, accomplished men of his time, understood the value of discipleship.
Pay attention, my child, to what I say. Listen carefully. Don’t lose sight of my words. Let them penetrate deep within your heart, for they bring life and radiant health to anyone who discovers their meaning…
Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; then stick to the path and stay safe. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen carefully to my wise counsel. Then you will learn to be discreet and will store up knowledge.
Discipleship is an active lifestyle. We must pursue it.
37Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given,because Jesus was not yet glorified. Matthew 7:37-39
The great 20th century English writer and wit Malcolm Muggeridge wrote:
“I might pass for being a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue (British Income Tax) – that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions – that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfillment.
Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less thank nothing, a positive impediment – measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask myself, does life hold, what is there in the works of time, in the past, now and to come, which could possibly be put in the balance against the refreshment of drinking that water?” Jesus Rediscovered
The Living Water that Malcolm Muggeridge is referring to is that offered by Jesus to the Samaritan woman in the encounter which John records in his gospel:
7Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
9The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water? 12And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?”
13Jesus replied, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. 14But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
15“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.” John 4:7-15
God desires to give each of us this “perpetual spring” of living water, yet the reality is that there are many blockages to the flow of this spring in our lives. Our experience here on Earth often results in unforgiveness, hurts that are not healed, and beliefs that fall outside of God’s principles for living. In addition, generational issues and outright demonic oppression reduce the flow of “Living Water”. As a disciple of Jesus, we should be sensitive to these blockages of that “perpetual spring” and be diligent to “keep the spring clean and flowing”.
Think back on your own journey. What was the effect of those times when you chose to hold on to an offense, rather than forgive? How were you affected by often careless but sometimes purposed words spoken that resulted in hurt feelings? How has your belief system changed as you compared your own “natural thinking” to the principles in God’s Word? Have you noticed behavioral patterns in your own life that reflect behavior in your parents and grandparents? Are you being blessed in areas of your life that have nothing to do with your “merit”? When was the last time you came under spiritual attack? How did you respond? Jesus calls us to constantly grow in our relationship with him, and in spiritual maturity. These are synonymous. Intimacy with Him will result in forgiveness given to others, hurts healed, changed hearts and thinking, and awareness of those generational issues. This is spiritual maturity.
Jesus speaks about removing these obstacles to the flow of His life through ours in Matthew 7:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
6“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9“Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10“Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
12“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
We often read this passage of Scripture in separate paragraphs, not connecting each to the overall context of this portion. Reading these verses within their context provides us with a profound understanding of Jesus’ desire to remove the obstacles that hold us back in our relationship with him and others.
When we find ourselves judging others, it is an indicator that the issues that are annoying us may in fact be our issues as well. The standard that we apply to others will be applied to us.
“Specks” can be easily washed away. It is the “logs” that jam up the flow. We should be first concerned about “un-jamming” our flow of that Living water, so that we may be free and understanding God’s perspective on our issues. “Seeing Clearly” with compassionate enables us to help others remove the obstacles from their flow.
Timing is essential when delivering any message (“pearls”) from God. Have you noticed how those words of correction often backfire? Those we seek to help often turn to attack us. God’s timing in removing specks is critical.
If we seek God’s perspective on our issues, He says that He will give us answers. He will open the door to understanding, and show us His solutions, using His wisdom and power. God’s path to removing the obstacles to His flow is very specific and “narrow” by the world’s standards.
It is essential that in this process of removing the logs and specks, we treat others as we would want them to treat us in the same situation. This is a lifestyle of considering others before ourselves.
In our fast pace society, it is easy to overlook so much of the process that God is attempting to work out in our own hearts to make us more effective in our walk in this world. We ought to be a living spring naturally overflowing unto many lives and provoking many along the way to come to partake of Christ in us. This is the lifestyle of a true disciple.
The Essence of Discipleship
I spent a decade in the United States Navy, first as a midshipman, then as an attack/fighter pilot, flying the A-6 Intruder off the decks of theKitty Hawk, Enterprise, and finally the Coral Sea. The mission of Naval Aviation is “Power Projection” in defense of our country, and a typical flight involved delivering weapons on an enemy military target far from the American shore.
There were many elements to actually getting the bombs and missiles on the target. One of the first things we learned in flight school was the ability to fly around for hours without having to actually see the ground. This was an important skill to have to safely fly in foul weather or at night. We did this by learning to fly and navigate by using instruments that told us our position, altitude, attitude, speed, and direction. A flight made in “IFR”, or Instrument Flight Rules usually ended in making an “instrument approach” to the airfield or aircraft carrier.
We learned to do this in Advanced Jet Training at Kingsville Texas by sitting in the backseat of the A-4 Skyhawk trainer with a curtain blocking out all light, and flying by instruments only through the South Texas sky, often never looking out to see what the weather was really like. A typical training flight would entail instrument navigation from geographical point to point, often hundreds of miles, finally descending and initiating an approach to an airport.
The first step in these precision approaches was to arrive at a point usually 10 miles out on an extended centerline of the runway, level at 1500 above the airport, with the objective of picking up a 3.5 degree glideslope that would take us in a controlled descent to within 200 feet of height and a half mile from the end of the runway. Even though in our training it was often “severe clear” weather in the front cockpit, this “Ground Controlled Approach” was the only way to safely penetrate serious weather and make it in for a safe landing. That’s why we had to practice this procedure with a bag over our head.
Here’s how it happened: At about six miles out, a ground controller picked us up on his radar, and began to give us directional commands to line us up. At about three miles out, he called “Up and on glideslope”. This was the cue to pop the speed brakes, retard the throttle, and dip the nose to set up a rate of descent that would keep us on the glideslope all the way to “breakout” where we could actually see the runway and land visually. Remember, these were the days before automated landing systems common on airliners today. We actually had to learn how to do this manually.
In a no wind situation, a 700 foot per minute descent would keep you on the glideslope safely. If there was a strong head wind, you had to descend slower, due to a slower groundspeed. If you had crosswinds, your heading had to be adjusted to keep you on the centerline. It is very easy to be blown off course. Every five seconds, the ground controller would give you a “status report” like “below glideslope and left of centerline”. Corrections in rate of descent, and heading had to be constantly made. Ideally, you liked to hear the ground controller say “On Glideslope, On Centerline”. Those were good words to hear- although a typical new flight student rarely heard that from the controller. Generally we were constantly above and below, and left and right during an approach. Compared to the straight line of the glideslope, our approaches often resembled a crawling rattlesnake so common to South Texas, or a noodle of wet spaghetti. We students called our type of approach “Fencing with the Glideslope”. Indeed, these approaches, which lasted less than five minutes, were often the most stressful moments of our training. We knew that in the real world, flying a precision approach was a life or death matter. We had to learn to do this safely to survive in the harsh environment of Naval Aviation.
The breakthrough for all of us came at some point in the process when we began to mentally define the glideslope andcenterline in our minds, and understood all the dynamics that keep the jet on course. Mastery came when we could make all the corrections needed to stay “On Glideslope, On Centerline” by instinct, feeling the jet’s motions before they even registered on the instruments.
It began happening for me one blistery day in October of 1974 when I made two back to back instrument training flights- spending over three hours under the bag listening to the ground controller talk me down. The winds were strong, and constantly changing, and the 12-ton Skyhawk was bouncing around like a cork on rough seas. Under the harshest of training conditions, the lights began to come on, and as I began to “feel” the aircraft, I became more confident in making the appropriate corrections to stay on the glideslope and on centerline.
Now understanding the dynamics, the key for me became focus and practice. Eventually by the time I got my wings the following year, I had flown 77 precision approaches. Over the course of the next five years, I was required to make many approaches to the USS Lexington, Kitty Hawk, Enterprise, and Coral Sea at night and in very marginal weather, and often in very rough seas. Because of knowing where the glideslope and centerline was, and how to control the flight path of the jet to keep me on it, I was able to survive a very demanding environment, and land safely. It was the same for every other Naval Aviator.
Christians also need to know where the glideslope and centerline of God’s Will is, the tactics of the enemy to distract us, and what the dynamics are that allow us to “stay on course”. As the understanding the process of flying the glideslope was the breakthough for me and other aviators, understanding the elements of discipleship and the process of how it happens can allow us to have an easier time of making the corrections to stay on course. This is the reality of Christian Living- understanding how discipleship happens, what knocks us off course, and how we make adjustments to stay on track.
Let’s begin our discussion with a look at the last scene in the book of John.
15After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
16Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
17Once more he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. 18The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
20Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who among us will betray you?”21Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”
22Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.” John 21:15-22
Here Jesus states that there are Two Parts to our purpose in life:
First: Follow Jesus– Be A Disciple (You Follow Me!)
Second: Do your part in making disciples– spiritually care and feed the members of God’s family that He places in your path. (Feed My Sheep, Tend My Lambs)
Let’s look at Step 1: Being A Disciple. We will look at Step 2 (Making Disciples) later on in this study.
Discipleship begins with a “required” experience that Jesus described in a famous conversation with a learned teacher named Nicodemus.
After dark one evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, 2 came to speak with Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you.”
3 Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.”
4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. 7 So don’t be surprised at my statement that you* must be born again.8 Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” John 3:1-8
We all must experience a “spiritual birth”. We all must have a moment in our lives when we make a conscious decision to invite Jesus to become the Lord of our life. When we do that, suddenly a spiritual connection is established with God as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our spirits. It is a mysterious thing, hard to explain, and much debated, yet a simple principle for entry into the Kingdom. When men and women are “born from above” and enter into a relationship with Christ, change begins.
What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! 2 Cor 5:17
The end result of this process of change is that we will be like God. It sounds strange, even blasphemous to say such a thing! But the reality is God is changing us into mirror reflections of Himself.
Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, and we can’t even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 1 John 3:2
The day we are “born from above”, this process of change begins. Salvation is just the first step in a divine progression!
Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him. Phil 2:12-13
Kenneth Weiss, a missionary who became a first class Greek scholar, offers us a more-to-the-point translation. The key Greek word is Katergazesthai, which means “to accomplish with thoroughness, to bring about”.
“Carry to its perfect conclusion your salvation (Gr. Katergazesthai) for it is God who, that He may carry out his own good pleasure, brings to effect in you both the initial willing, and the effective action” (Weis Translation)
God says that through His Holy Spirit, He will give us the desire to make changes in our lives, He will focus our attention on specific issues, and then He will give us the power to make it happen!
Understanding this dynamic is a key to accomplishing this change.
When we come into relationship with God, we must undergo this spiritual renewal.
Since you have heard all about him and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, 22 throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. Eph 4:22-23
What parts of your “former way of life” do you see the need to throw off?
- Which aspects to your relationships that need to be discarded?
- Are there issues of unforgiveness that need to be left behind?
- What parts of your personal belief system are the result of your experiences and intellect rather than your understanding of the Word of God?
- Are there any “generational issues” that God is dealing with?
- What is the current focus of this spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes?
How does this process happen?
Real Change of heart is produced only by God’s Spirit.
No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not a cutting of the body but a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. Whoever has that kind of change seeks praise from God, not from people. Romans 2:29
Ezekiel wrote of this change of heart.
26 And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command. Ezekiel 36:26-27
Of course the Big Question is: “Do we really want to change?” Do we have the desire to leave behind those selfish attitudes, and self-centered lifestyle? Are we willing to face the issues in our lives and work them out according to God’s ways?
We have chosen to follow Jesus, and place ourselves under his authority, but have you noticed that often there is something that rises up in us that prevents us from whole-heartedly running after Him? It is obvious that we all struggle with this to some extent. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to remain awake and pray with him, yet he found them sleeping.
“Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matt. 26:41
Yes, there is a struggle between our new spirit, and our old sinful nature. The great missionary Paul experienced this himself, and it caused him great despair.
15 I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. 16 I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things.
18 I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. 19 When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. 20 But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it.
21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Romans 7:15-22
It gives me comfort that one of my spiritual heroes experience this same struggle. This is the reality of the Christian life! We are engaged in a constant battle of spirit verses flesh, and often, it seems like I’m taking two steps forward, and three backwards. I get to point where I know God is asking me to “Follow Him” on a particular issue, but I just don’t want to. I have often asked myself what it is that in a sense “pulls the trigger” to cause me to want to change, and actually follow through with it.
For many years, I suffered from a yeast imbalance in my body that caused many strange symptoms. I went to many specialists in tropical medicine in Honduras, and some of the best doctors in the U.S. Nobody could determine what was afflicting me. One day, I was in a health food store in North Carolina, and my eyes fell on a book about Candida yeast problems. I read the list of symptoms, and they matched my exactly. As I eagerly read on, I discovered the “cure” was to deprive this yeast of all sugar and glutens (wheat products). Standing there in that store, something clicked inside me. My trigger had been pulled, and I determined that I would not eat another piece of candy or chocolate, eat another mango, or eat any breads and pasta containing wheat. I walked out a changed man in a sense, and for the next 8 months, I ate nothing with sugar or wheat. I lost about 25 lbs, and all my symptoms disappeared.
What is it that makes us “click” when we deal with this spirit-flesh struggle? Paul finishes his discussion in Romans 7 with the exclamation,
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25
There was a horrible punishment for murder under the Roman legal system. The killer would have the body of the victim strapped to his body, and he would be placed in a cage for public viewing. In the course of the next few weeks, the decomposing body would begin to contaminate the murderer’s body, finally killing with it with a massive infection. This is what Paul is referring to. “I have this body of sin strapped to my body and it is killing me! Who will save me? It will only be Jesus my Lord!”
There is a great story of a missionary to an Alaskan Indian tribe. One of his recent converts was an old Eskimo man who one day came to him and said, “Pastor, ever since that day I invited Jesus into my heart, I have felt like there is a war going on inside me.”
“What do you mean?” asked the missionary.
“Well it’s like there is this white dog and this black dog, and they are fighting inside,” replied the old man.
The pastor asked, “Which one is winning?”
The old Eskimo thought for a moment and then said something very profound: “The one that I feed the most.”
When we step into Christianity, Paul tells us to “bring to completion your salvation”as it says in Philippians 2:12. This is a clue that the Christian life is a divine process beginning the moment that you accept Jesus as the “Kurios” ( Greek for “Maximum Commander”) and invite Him in. And as we feed the white dog, then the black dog has less and less power.
The cool thing is this passage in Philippians says that actually God will give us the desire to make these changes, and He will also give us the power to make it happen. Change of Heart plus Developed Spiritual Disciplines result in Lives Effective for the Kingdom!
How does it happen? Peter writes:
As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! 4And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature. 2 Peter 1:3-4
Paul has an interesting discussion with his friends in Corinth on a key to this process of change.
Now let’s talk about food that has been sacrificed to idols. You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for.
4 So now, what about it? Should we eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God and no other. 5According to some people, there are many so-called gods and many lords, both in heaven and on earth. 6 But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we exist for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.
7 However, not all Christians realize this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. 9 But you must be careful with this freedom of yours. Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble.
10 You see, this is what can happen: Weak Christians who think it is wrong to eat this food will see you eating in the temple of an idol. You know there’s nothing wrong with it, but they will be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been dedicated to the idol. 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak Christian, for whom Christ died, will be destroyed. 12 And you are sinning against Christ when you sin against other Christians by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong. 13 If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to make another Christian stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
In this passage, Paul uses the word “conscience” three times in a effort to communicate a spiritual principle. Let’s follow a logical progression of thought.
Your Conscience is the meeting place of your body, soul & spirit. When we become spiritually connected to God through the Holy Spirit, we suddenly have a divine input into our conscience.
- Your divinely connected conscience is the breeding ground for your character;
- Your character is the source of your convictions;
- Your convictions are the basis for your decisions;
- Your decisions lead to your actions;
- Your habitual actions form your behavior.
How do we change behavior? Work on changing character.
Allowing God’s presence in your conscience will cause deep character changes.
How do we enter into God’s presence?
We do that through heart-felt worship and acknowledging God for who He is and what He has done for us. Worship opens a door for deep spiritual communication with God, and can be done almost anywhere in private or even public moments.
Another “entry” is through His Word, the Bible, and regular times of reading and meditating. We will discuss how to most effectively read the Bible later in this study.
Service is another way to step into God’s presence. When we set our own agenda’s aside, and look to the needs of others, there is a spiritual dynamic that kicks in, and God’s presence is felt. Mother Teresa, a famous saint who worked many years in the slums of Calcutta, believed that as she was attending to the sick and abandoned, she literally was ministering to Jesus Himself. (Matthew 25)
40“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40
Trials are a time when we sense an urgent need for the presence of God in our lives. James says to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). When trials come, take the opportunity to pitch your tent in the presence of God.
Fellowship with your Christian brothers and sisters is another entryway into the presence of God. The Body of Christ is literally where the Spirit of God dwells, and many times the manifestations of Spiritual Gifts provide a very real touch from God Himself. No wonder the Bible says. . .
. . . and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Perhaps the most opportune “doorway” into the presence of God is prayer– simple communication with God any moment of the day on any subject. God is always there listening, awaiting a call on the “celestial telephone” from his beloved children. Pray is more than giving God a list of our needs. Prayer is listening to that “still, thin, voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that Elijah heard in the desert of Horeb. You can hear that voice anywhere you are, if you take the time to listen. Prayer is a time to express yourself fully to God, but more of a time to align yourself to God’s thinking.
The life of a disciple should be filled with moments each day of entering into God’s presence. This is the source of life itself. We constantly need refreshment, strength, guidance, healing, forgiveness, encouragement, and divine perspective. Yet how often do we get caught up in the events of the day, our own agendas?
Our personal growth is decided on how much time we spend with our Lord. Our view of our selves, and our view of God is established as we spend time with Him, especially through His Word, and prayer. We receive guidance for the ministry that God has planned for us when we are in His presence. The Fruits of the Spirit are all cultivated through times in God’s Presence.
Spending time with Jesus is the most important thing a disciple can do!
The “D” in Discipleship
What does it take to be successful in any sport, business, skill, or other endeavor?
It takes a commitment to develop some disciplines.
Discipline — training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency.
Landing on an aircraft carrier is serious business. It is not something that most can just go out and do. It requires a lot of training, your total concentration and a bit of lunacy. To do it successfully over a period of years requires the development of disciplines that keep you alive, and actually make it a pleasant experience.
My first landings were on the USS Lexington in during Basic Jet training in 1974. We trained for almost a month- in the classroom and in the cockpit. We learned about the flying environment around a carrier, how to control our T-2 Buckeye jets on the glideslope, while maintaining the proper speed and lineup, literally flying the jet through an 18 inch “window”, touching down on centerline a few feet short of the #3 wire. If all things went right, then the tailhook would snag the wire.
We saw a great motivational movie called “Carrier Landing Mishaps”, which was a grueling 45 minute experience of watching Navy airplanes landing short and striking the aft end of the flight deck (the ramp), bursting into flames, with aircraft parts rolling down the flight deck, and dropping off into the ocean, sometimes with the pilots still inside. This was a great lesson on the hazards of the carrier environment- very user-unfriendly, with little margin for error or lapses in concentration and discipline.
Then we were ready for practice. In the next few weeks, I flew 82 “simulated approaches”, landing on a “carrier box” painted on the runway. This was the “learning to control the jet” part. Finally on August 14th, I was ready, and we flew out to the Lexington, which was operating off the coast of Texas.
Because of the intense training on airspeeds, altitudes, and other procedures, I made my first landing in the Buckeye and was directed to the catapult and launched off before I was really aware that I had actually landed. It was the second pass where it all sunk in- I had actually beaten the odds and landed on a moving ship! I finished that day with 4 arrested landings.
I went to the Lexington again in March of ‘75 for six more landings in the A-4 Skyhawk, again following 75 simulated approaches. I did so well that they let me go back again in April, following again 66 simulated approaches. Actually my technique in March left a lot to be desired. Although I did land the required 6 times onboard, my handing of the airplane was shoddy, and not to the level of control desired by our Landing Safety Officers. I got the message, buckled down with an extra measure of discipline, and actually did very well in April. In December, I was back to the Lexington again, this time in the A-6 Intruder. We were required to do 10 arrested landings in the day, and they actually started to become more fun than dread. We were also required to have 6 night landings.
Night landings are a different story. It is intense concentration; feeling the airplane, small corrections on the stick and throttle, learning to ignore some of your visual senses, which will actually mislead you at night, and flying by the glideslope indicator (the “Ball”) mounted on the side of the landing area which shows you where you really are on that 3.5 degree glideslope. Night landing are really nothing more than controlled terror.
Its all about developing disciplines that keep first of all keep you alive, and then allow you to accomplish you mission. Later these disciplines allow for the whole process to be rather enjoyable. That may be hard to believe, but I actually got to the point where I loved a day landing, and enjoyed the night landings where there was a bit of the moon. I don’t think anyone actually enjoyed those “no-moon” nights, with rough seas and matching weather. But because of the disciplines we developed in daytime, when it was relatively easy, we could get aboard at night in a thunderstorm with a pitching deck with a low fuel state.
It is the same in Christianity. God wants to help us acquire disciplines in our lives that will allow us to survive in the harsh environment where we find ourselves, cultivate the self-control we need to keep on track, and develop the skills required to accomplish the mission. He wants these disciplines to be so ingrained in us that in this experience of Life on Planet Earth, we will not just survive, but thrive, even in harsh environments and difficult circumstances.
What are some of these disciplines?
Moses gave us ten in Exodus 20. We call them the “Ten Commandments”
- Do not worship any other gods besides me.
- Do not make idols of any kind;
- Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
- Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
- Honor your father and mother.
- Do not murder. Do not commit adultery.
- Do not steal. Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
- Do not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servant, ox or donkey, or anything else your neighbor owns.”
Peter give us a shorter list in 2 Peter 1:5-7
So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better. 6Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. 7Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally you will grow to have genuine love for everyone. 8The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But those who fail to develop these virtues are blind or, at least, very shortsighted.
Micah gave us a short list in chapter 6:8.
O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Jesus gave us the shortest list in Matthew 22:
One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matt 22:35-40
Of all the 612 laws God gave Moses, Jesus focused on only two- Deuteronomy 6:5 andLeviticus 19:18. He didn’t refer to any dietary laws, or sacrificial laws, or any societal laws, laws that in one sense were easily obeyed. Instead He brought to attention the two most difficult laws. Why were they difficult?
To fulfill these laws required a heart turned fully toward God. You can’t just go through the motions of “Loving God” with heart, soul, and mind, by definition this is something that comes from within. Without profound conviction, it is impossible to live a life that reflects love for your neighbors. These are actions that must be rooted deep inside your being. They must reflect a heart condition, a heart turned fully toward God. This “heart turned fully toward God” is something you see over and over again in the pages of Scripture. This is the main thing God wants from us. This is all He wants from us. Everything else will follow this heart condition that is totally focused and submitted to God. When our hearts are given to Him, then it becomes very natural to give and actively love others.
The Two Big Commandment are Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Theses two sound a lot like what Jesus told Peter in John 21: “Follow Me! Feed My Lambs, Take care of My Sheep”.
What are these commandments about? Relationship, which my dictionary defines as:the quality or state of being related; connection; connection by blood, marriage, etc.; kinship
Our Relationship with God is the basis for being a disciple.
Our Relationships with people form the basis for making disciples.
God wants us to have an appropriate relationship with Him, and His people. What kind of relationship does God want with us? Simply put, it is a Love Relationship. The Love relationship is what allows everything else to follow.
- It is through a Love Relationship that we and God become one.
- It is through a Love Relationship that we begin to touch others for the Kingdom.
- It is through a Love Relationship that eternal relationships are built.
Key word in all this is Love.
“Love” is often described as:
1) a deep and tender feeling of affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons;
2) an expression of one’s love or affection;
In reality, love is an emotion as well as an act of your will!
Part 1: How are we then to “Love” God?
We are first to love him with all our heart.
The Hebrew word in Deuteronomy 6:5 is lebab, which translates inner man; the source of the life of the inner person in various aspects, with a focus on feelings, thoughts, volition, and other areas of inner life. We love God “with all our heart” by first worshipping and praising him. Praise and worship is simply our human response to His Divine presence. The Bible is full of examples of humans responding to God’s presence by worshipping and praising Him.
When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of theLord filling the Temple, they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised theLord, saying, “He is so good! His faithful love endures forever!” 2 Chronicles 7:3
To the Hebrew mind, the heart was the core of their innermost being. An encounter with God usually evokes some sort of emotional response from this innermost part, recognizing God for who He is, and what He has done for us. The Book of Psalms provides us with great examples of how to praise and worship God. To really understand what the Psalmists were communicating, it’s important to realize that where the word “praise” appears in our English Bibles, there is actually one of seven Hebrew words (that are translated “Praise” in English). Here are three that have to do directly with loving God with all our heart.
1) Hallal: To praise the Lord by celebrating, by dancing, by shining forth, by acting clamorously foolish; A very robust liberating kind of praise.
Hallal the LORD! Hallal God in his heavenly dwelling; Hallal him in his mighty heaven! Psalm 150:1
2) Shabach: To praise the Lord with a shout and a loud voice.
Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I Shabach You! Ps 63:3
3) Tehillah: A praise from your spirit, the pouring out of your heart before God; letting Him know how you feel.
Yet you are holy. The Tehillah of Israel surround your throne. Psalm 22:3
While modern churches may stress a quiet form of worship, it is obvious that the Biblical style included not only moments of quiet reverence, but also lengthy periods of exuberance. The cheering we do at a football, basketball or soccer game or at a swim meet is the same emotional response God desires us to have toward Him. He really wants us to “cut loose” in our expressions to Him. There is great spiritual and emotional health that results from our emotions being freely expressed.
The failure to release certain emotions can have damaging effects on the follower of Jesus. Consider the following conversation between Jesus and Peter:
21Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus said* to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24“When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25“But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26“So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27“And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
28“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29“So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30“But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31“So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
32“Then summoning him, his lord said* to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35
It is natural in the course of life that others offend us. We may be wronged in business or mistreated by a friend. It may be verbal or physical abuse, or outright aggression. Damaging words may be spoken behind our back. Loved ones may abandon us in times of need. Whatever the cause, we often end up harboring ill feelings towards those who offend us.
And don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are angry, for anger gives a might foothold to the devil Eph 4:26-27
The Bible is very clear that anger as an emotion is not sin. It is what we do with our anger that is the issue. Where the world would say that we have the right to hold on to an offense and not forgive, God says that for our own spiritual health, we must forgive those who wrong us. We must, otherwise we give satan an open door to attack and “torture” us.
In the outline for prayer that Jesus gave His disciples on Matthew 6, Jesus commands us to ask our Heavenly Father to
Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. Matthew 6:11-12
Jesus stresses the need for taking a daily inventory to ensure that we are not holding on to any offenses. He goes on to say that:
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
There is something that connects our forgiveness with the grace that we receive from the Lord. Forgiving others is the mandatory first step in receiving our forgiveness from God.
There are few things that create problems and curses in the lives of disciples like unforgiveness. Ask any psychologist about the root of behavioral issues. Many point to the practice of holding on to offenses as the source of many emotional and health issues. That is why the writer of Hebrews wrote:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; Hebrews 12:15 NAS
The word used here for “bitterness,” is “pikria” which according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament translates as “resentment,” or “an incensed and angry attitude of mind to one’s neighbor”. Bitterness is simply unfulfilled revenge. Holding on to this emotion and not forgiving will result in severe consequences for the believer.
Jesus is very clear in Matthew 5:38-42 (“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’) that we do not have the right to revenge. On the contrary, according to the principles expressed in that passage of Scripture, we should be givers to those who offend us! What a revolutionary concept!
Consider the magnitude of our offenses toward God. Whoever we are, there has been some point in our lives where we have turned our back on God and walked away from His will for our lives. God has forgiven each of our sins toward Him. In light of that, is it reasonable for us to forgive others when they offend us?
Paul counseled his friends in Colossae:
12Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. Col 3:12-15
God wants us to release emotions in our praise of Him, and He wants us also to release the emotions of offense to those around us. There are incredible rewards to this style of life, in our physical and spiritual health. This is truly “Loving God with all our hearts”.
- Take opportunity to actively Praise and Worship God.
- Develop a discipline to enter into praise even when you don’t feel like it.
- Take time to have open conversations with God- he knows your feelings anyway!
- Think of anyone whom you are not forgiving.Take that emotion before the Lord. Ask Him to help you release this desire to hold on to the offense. Verbally speak out to the Lord that you are forgiving. Now find that person and speak that forgiveness to them personally.
- As you pray for God’s “daily bread” in your life each day, begin to take an inventory as to any offense and unforgiveness issues.
- Make a point to pray for those people who have wronged us in any way, be it in traffic, in the store, in the church, or any relationship.Be givers (of your prayers) to these offenders!
How do we love God with all our “soul”?
This world “soul” in Deut 6:5 is the Hebrew word nepesh which carries the meaning of the inner self, or the essence of life, including thinking, feeling, willing, and desiring. It often refers to the throat, the place where things enter and exit your body.
Your nepesh is the center of your ethics. It is the source of obedience to God’s commands. Jesus Himself linked the level of our relationship to God to obedience when He told His disciples:
“If you love me, obey my commandments.” John 14:15
Obedience to God has always been a big issue in the Bible. Why? Probably because it shows us where our heart is. God already knows. The closer we are to God, the more we are likely to obey Him, especially in areas that we really don’t understand why. They further we are from God, the more we are apt to make our own decisions based on personal comfort and gain.
The word obey is used 360 times in the Bible. That’s almost one usage for every day of the year! The obedience that the Lord desires comes from the essence of our being. It goes beyond our emotions; it is deeper than our intellect. Our Heavenly Father wants a relationship of trust with His Children. Obedience is an indicator of the level of trust that we have in God. As a father, I understand this concept. There are many times that my children have had to do things that they really don’t yet understand. As toddlers, I made a point to walk out on the highway with them and point to “road kill” so that they would understand why I told them not to walk out on a street alone. As they grow older, I want the trust factor to grow. I hope that they understand that I will do anything for them, and they realize the great love that I have for them. I don’t want my kids to obey me because thathave to, but rather because they want to. Hopefully we have a relationship based on love and trust.
The ramifications of our obedience have far reaching effects. Consider what God said to Moses on Mt. Sinai while he was giving the Big 10 commandments.
I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations. But I lavish my love on those who love me and obey my commands, even for a thousand generations. Exodus 20:5-6.
Samuel gave us a great perspective on the importance of obedience to God in an encounter with a disobedient King Saul.
But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams.
1 Sam 15:22 NLT
Why is obedience much better than sacrifice?
In a very personal talk with his disciples the night before his death, Jesus spoke over and over again of the importance and benefits of obedience. Follow His line of thought:
15“If you love me, obey my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. John 14:15-16
1) Our level of obedience with determine the level of the Presence of the Holy Spirit
21Those who obey my commandments are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them, and I will love them. And I will reveal myself to each one of them.” John 14:21
2) Our obedience results in the Revelation of the person of Jesus to us.
23Jesus replied, “All those who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and live with them. 24Anyone who doesn’t love me will not do what I say. And remember, my words are not my own. This message is from the Father who sent me. John 14:23-24
3) Our obedience leads to God’s Presence in our daily lives
5“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! 8My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father. John 15:5-8
4) Our obedience leads to the bearing of much Fruit
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!
5) We will have greater Joy in our lives with greater levels of obedience!
14You are my friends if you obey me. 15I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn’t confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. John 15:14-15
6) Our Friendship with Jesus is guaranteed through our obedience to Him.
Six benefits of living lives of obedience.
The Presence of the Holy Spirit, The Revelation of Jesus; God’s presence in our daily lives, Bearing Much Fruit, Greater Joy, and Friendship With Jesus.
God’s Word is filled with principles for living our lives here on Planet Earth. He gives us His wisdom on how to order our relationships, how to run our business, how to raise our children, how to serve our spouse, how to function in ministry, how to manage our finances, and most importantly, how to relate to Him. It’s all in His Book.
As we become aware of God’s will for our lives in specific areas, we become accountable for them. As Paul spoke with his friends in Corinth regarding their “conscience” (1 Corinthians 8), we need to remember that we are accountable to the things that God has spoken to us through His written word (gr. logos) as well as those personal spoken (gr. rhema) words. There are things that God has spoken to me personally that I am accountable for that perhaps He has yet to speak to you. This is why we call it a personal relationship with God. He allows some of His children to do some things that are forbidden to others. People become legalistic when they project those personal things that God has told them to do on others. Whether it is what you are eating or drinking, what you are wearing, or even what spiritual gift you happen to be exercising, God has spoken to each of His children, and we are accountable for those things.
Besides our obedience, there are other ways we love God with our “soul”.
There are times in our lives where we suffer hurts. It may have been a comment from a friend, a coach, or a teacher. Maybe it was rejection from a group, or betrayal from a loved one. Hurts go deep, and often our solution is to try to forget, or simply ignore them. Even though we have forgiven the offenders, sometimes the hurt we suffer becomes a festering wound. Unhealed wounds can result in reactions that surprise us. Most of us have had the experience of bumping or brushing against a cut that appeared to be almost healed, and knocking off the scab. Pain is sudden, and the healing process is set back. Sometimes we realized that a special medication is needed to aid the healing process.
As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.” Psalm 41:4
“Rapha” is the Hebrew word used here for “heal”. In this context it has the meaning to promote the restoration of health, or to make fresh. It can also mean to no longer be salty or poisonous, or to repair and bring back to a prior, preferable condition. God desires to heal our hurts and restore us. He wants us to give all areas of our “nephesh” to Him. David, who experience rejection and persecution on a national scale declared:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Psalm 23:1-3
- Start obeying God in the small choices of life; When you come to the big issues, take time to discover what God’s opinion is;
- Pray for yourself in areas of behavior that go against the wishes of God;
- Make yourself accountable to another brother or sister.
- Ask the Lord to show you any specific wounds in your life that have not healed.Bring them before Him and ask Him for healing.
- Notice when you react to a situation strangely.Ask God to show you any possible wounds to your soul that need His Divine healing.
How do we love Him with “all our mind”?
The mind is the center of the intellectual activity, an English term translating several different Hebrew and Greek terms. The Greek word used for mind is dianoia, which means reasoning, understanding, and thinking. I believe that this love has to do with letting our mind dwell on Him, and always keeping all our thoughts inside the corral that’s labeled “What’s good for my relationship with God”.
We love God with our minds by:
1) Keeping our priorities in order.
Through our life experiences and what we see in movies and on television, we form our own order of priorities. At the top of the list for many is pleasure, for others it is work. When we become disciples of Christ, we place ourselves under His authority, and with that comes a new level of importance for things that were never on our list. The Bible gives us very specific principles when it comes to our priorities in this life. Let’s look at a few of the many verses and extract some principles that will help us love God with our minds:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:1-2
Principle: God is number one! There is nothing that comes before Him.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Eph 2:10
Principle: God created us to do specific thing for the Kingdom (ministry)
For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 2 Thess. 3:10-12
Principle: Men and women should work for their living expenses so that they will not be a burden on others.
In everything you do, I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man can’t do that so well. He has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided.
1 Cor 7:32-34
Principle: A married man must place his wife above his ministry.
But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:5
Principle: We should be focused on the ministry that God has given us.
It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; Psalm 127:2-5
Principle: Our children are more important than our work.
From these and other passages of Scripture, we can see that Biblical Priorities are clear: God is always #1, Family #2, Ministry #3, Job #4, and recreation #5. We must recognize this list of priorities, and order our lives accordingly. A temptation for many Christians is to place ministry above family. This has resulted in many children of pastors and missionaries turning away from God. We must resist this temptation and give ourselves to our families before we give to our other ministries.
2) Controlling our thoughts. According to many pastors and counselors, “Speculations and imaginations” are the one of the major problem among Christians. Many of us live our lives by fear. In addition, “Strongholds” develop when we construct a belief system apart from God. It’s important that we bring every thought inside the “sphere of God” in our life. God says that when we do, our relationship with Him will grow. Years ago, our friend Dr Randall Smith taught us how a famous passage of Scripture relates to this concept.
In 2 Corinthians Chapter 10 there is a fabulous image of the battle to take a human heart and to conquer our own thoughts and beliefs. We have a very interesting Roman military document from the 2nd century that describes the four steps in which you take an ancient city. These mounted walled garrison cities have a glace or an angled wall at the base of the vertical wall. This is about a 30 degree angled slope that prevents a battering ram of doing its job effectively by deflecting the force- it will glance off. The glace also prevents attackers from having a firm level ground to try to climb up and over the wall- usually this slope is slippery (from oil) and it makes ground attack more difficult.
The only way to take a city like this was to bring in shielded men called sappers who would come in to the sewer pits, the drains at the base of the wall, and begin to take out a section of the wall from below. Now the problem is that if you are a sapper and are good at your job, you only get to do this once, because the wall usually collapses on top of you.
When the wall collapses, the second team comes in. They are called the casters. They cast away the bodies of the sappers and of course the stones of the fallen section of the wall. Allowing the third group- the infantry – to pour through the breach in the wall. They will begin to take each section of the city block by block in a sustained attacked.
Finally, just in time to take credit for the battle, you have the fourth element, the captains, who come in and put up two poles. You will have a pole set up for the execution of everyone who will not get with the program – a gallows, and then you will have a flagpole to allow the captives to pledge their allegiance to the new regime.
Paul picks up on this illustration and uses it with the people of Corinth who are familiar with warfare, because they have been soldiers and naval officers. He says in 2 Cor 10:
‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,’
We are the sappers at the bottom of the wall, pulling down these weighty things that have imprisoned us for so long. It seems that like the sappers, we will die in the process. In the human heart you won’t die doing this- you may feel like you are dying and there is this spiritual sense that you are dying to your self, but your physical body will live.
‘casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’,
Now we are like the casters, removing all the, plans, and strategies that exalt ourselves.
‘Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,’
As the infantry moves in and takes control of each part of the city, we allow God to move into each room of our life. And finally
‘and being ready to punish all disobedience. . . .’
The captains bring in the gallows, and everything is placed in order.
You have a great warfare analogy, for a simple conclusion. It is a big grandiose picture to produce one point, which is: How is the life of the believer lived? One thought at a time.
Go into the base, and remove all the garbage, and thoughts of self-importance, and root out any thought or belief that does not line up with the Word of God.
There are beliefs that we all have as part of our “conscience” that don’t agree with God’s Word, or His nature or character. Since childhood, lies have been formed in us regarding ourselves, others, and God. We form beliefs from our own hurts, traumas, life experiences, things spoken to us or about us, that are simply not true. When we come to Christ, He begins a process of renewal of our thinking.
Since you have heard all about him and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. Eph 4:21-23
We need to identify the “Ungodly Beliefs” in our lives. God wants us to continually line up our thinking with His thinking, knowing that His ways are higher than our ways. We must put aside our thoughts, and adopt His. It is this continual inventory and cleansing that allows us to grow in our relationship with Him. This allows for more flow of that “Living Water” in our lives.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.
3) Prayer is another way to Love the Lord with your mind. Prayer is nothing more than talking to God on the celestial telephone. Communication is essential in any relationship which is growing, and getting more intimate. Prayer is getting into agreement with God and His purposes in your life! Here are Jesus’ comments on prayer.
5“And now about prayer. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.
7“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. 8Don’t be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! 9Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:5-13
Here is Jesus’ simple outline for prayer:
- Honor God,
- Tell Him that you want to follow Him,
- Ask Him for what you need,
- Ask for forgiveness for your sins,
- Ask for help in forgiving others;
- Strengthen us, and;
- Keep the enemy from bothering us.
Prayer is an essential communication with God and a powerful spiritual weapon!
4) Meditation: Filling our minds with God’s thoughts is a way that we love Him with our minds. Look how the Psalmist describes this process:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1-3 NAS
Meditation is contemplation; pondering. When you meditate on God’s Word, Your spiritual roots will grow stronger; Your spirit will be continually nourished; Your character will change to reflect more of Christ’s character; There will be fruit of the Spirit in greater measure; Your intimacy with God will grow! You will be receiving true life!
Here are Seven Reasons why you should be studying the Bible.
1) So that you can personally Know God. God tells us of Himself and His ways through His Word. Reading the Bible is a great way that we can really get to know God. Paul believed that knowing God was best thing that he could do in this life.
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Phil 3:8
2) Because you need to know the Truth! Truth is not relative. It is absolute. Truth is simply God’s opinion on the matter. Jesus said if we first become his disciples by obeying His teachings, then we would know the Truth, and then we would be set free. It’s a three-step process. We cannot know the Truth unless we are truly disciples if His.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
3) To receive guidance in your daily life. With all the conflicting advice offered in this world, we need to know God’s will when it comes to making decisions in our lives.
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105
4) The Bible is the ultimate source of wisdom! Sure other books have their value, but it is the Bible that sets the standard for wisdom in our culture.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Tim 3:16
5) We are commanded to study and know the Bible.
Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15
6) With so much different teaching going on in Christian circles, knowing the Bible will keep you from falling into error. It’s very important to check everything you hear from a teacher (including things in this book!) against the Word of God. God wants us to walk in Truth, not in doctrines that just “tickle our ears.”
And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth. Acts 17:11
7) In today’s spiritually charged environment, knowing the Bible will help you from being astray led by your spiritual experiences. Too many solid believers have fallen out of relationship with God because of deception. We know that after all, the devil disguises himself as an “angel of light” in an attempt to lead us away from God and toward him. Most, if not all, of your “spiritual experiences” (visions, dreams, audible voices, etc.) will not tell you anything that is not already spoken specifically or in principle in the Bible. Yet following a “vision “ or a “word from the Lord” can be deadly if there is no Scriptural basis for it.
Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on self-denial. And don’t let anyone say you must worship angels, even though they say they have had visions about this. These people claim to be so humble, but their sinful minds have made them proud. Col 2:18
Developing Disciplines for Loving God with Our Minds
- Begin to analyze your thoughts with the question “Is this pushing me toward God, and pulling me away?”
- When you find yourself “speculating” what may be the cause of a situation and “imagining” what may possibly happen, stop and ask yourself “Is fear increasing, or am I trusting in God to take care of it?”
- Take a periodic inventory of your belief system.Are you including any “Ungodly Beliefs” in your daily operating procedures or “rules of the road”? Expunge them! Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in this inventory.
- Take time daily to meditate on a passage of Scripture;
- Actively keep your priorities in this order: #1 God; #2 Your family, #3 Your ministry, #4 your work.
- Let God become part of your normal thought process- He is a listener to every internal communication anyway.Talk your situation over with Him.
The Bottom Line
God wants an intimate relationship with us! Our relationship with God will be at the optimum when we are: Expressing our emotions to Him freely; Actively trusting and obeying Him; and Keeping our thoughts in their proper place and priorities in their proper order.
In these conditions, God’s character overtakes us and becomes a part of us. When this truly happens, we very naturally obey The Second Big Commandment.
Jesus replied, “’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important:‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40
When it was asked “who is my neighbor” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritian—which showed that “our Neighbor” is any fellow inhabitant of this planet who needs help (Luke 10:25-37). Notice that this is a two step process- Love God (and receive God’s Love)- then you are able to love your neighbor.
Part 2: How do we Love our neighbor?
God wants us to have a very practical expression of love. There is a phrase “One Another” in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) that gives us very specific ways that we are to love our neighbors.
The 21 Commandments for Loving “One Another”
1) Romans 12:10 Be devoted. . .Give Preference. . .
2) Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of. . .
3) Romans 14:13 Do not judge. . .
4) Romans 14:19 Build up. . .
5) Romans 15:7 Accept. . .
6) 1 Corinthians. 12:25 Care for. . .
7) Galatians 5:13 Serve. . .
8) Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens. . .
9) Ephesians 4:2 Be patient. . .
10) Ephesians 4:32 Be kind & tenderhearted. . .
11) Ephesians 4:32 Forgive. . .
12) Colossians 3:16 Teach and admonish. . .
13) 1 Thessalonians 4:18 Comfort. . . .
14) Hebrews 3:13 Encourage. . .
15) James 4:11 Do not be against. . .
16) James 5:9 Do not complain. . .
17-18) James 5:16 Confess your sins. . .Pray for. . .
19) 1 Peter 4:8 Keep fervent in your love. . .
20) 1 Peter 4:9 Be Hospitable. . .
21) 1 Peter 5:5 Submit. . .
Why does God want us to Love One another?
One of the deepest needs that we have is to feel love. He knows that we naturally will not extend ourselves to others- it goes against our human natures. He also knows that loving others is the key ingredient for bringing people into the Kingdom of God. How Important is Loving One Another?
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35
An atmosphere of Loving One Another draws people into the Kingdom of God. What is the #1 reason why people don’t want to come to church? According to overwhelming statistics, it is the Hypocrites- The Actors. It is those who smile and say “God Bless You” on Sunday and treat you indifferently (often at best) the rest of the week. It is those who faithfully attend church for that hour on Sunday morning, and live their lives the rest of the week doing what suits them. There is no “action” behind their love. Sometimes it is a conflict between cultural norms– our actions vs. our words. The Hebrew mind focused on Function— The Greek Mind on form.
Plato, The Greek Philosopher said “the window to a man’s soul was his words”. James, the brother of the Jewish constructor (Jesus) said :
14Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. 15Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, 16and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless. 18Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” I say, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deed. James 2:14-18
The first step in making a disciple is to display genuine love toward that person. Further steps are taken as this “love” relationship grows. A person will not receive the Words of God until he feels the Love of God.
Developing Disciplines for Loving Your Neighbor:
- Take the time to know how God wants you to order and maintain your relationship with your family & friends.
- Notice which “strangers” that God has brought into your life, and begin to “one another”.
- As you go through your week, treat your boss, workmates, your employees, the cashier at the food store, and the person who lives next to you as if they were the most precious people in God’s sight.
- “If you pretend to “love” someone, the real feelings will usually follow.”
Three famous Christians offer us some closing thoughts:
“Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real things; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads op to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly, but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do , very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as it you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. C.S. Lewis, from “Mere Christianity”
“If we are going to lives as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty does not make us faint and cave in, it causes us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost for His highest?
God saves men by his sovereign grace through the Atonement of Jesus. He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure; but we have to work out that salvation in practical living. If once we start on the basis of His Redemption to do what He commands, we find that we can do it. If we fail, it is because we have not practiced, The crisis will reveal whether we have been practicing or not. If we obey the Spirit of God and practice in our physical life what God has put in us by His Spirit, then when the crisis comes, we shall find that our own nature as well as the grace of God will stand by us.
Thank God He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a glad thing, but it is also a heroic, holy thing. It tests us for all we are worth. Jesus is bringing many “sons” into glory, and God will not shield us from the requirements of a son. God’s grace turns out men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ, not milksops. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to live the noble life of a disciple of Jesus in actual things. It is always necessary to make an effort to be noble.”
Oswald Chambers, from “My Utmost For His Highes”
“Go into the world and preach the Gospel, and if you have to, use words.”
Francis of Assisi
A Lifestyle of Making Disciples
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “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.” Matt 28:18-20 NAS
This is a passage of Scripture that is often called the “Great Commission”. It is where missionaries have traditionally gotten their “marching orders” to go to other countries and evangelize unreached people. I first heard this message at a concert on Maui by a famous Christian singer, who’s latest album was titled “Jesus Commands Us To Go!”. I was so excited afterward that I told my cousin Kean that I was ready to go to any place and tell the people about Jesus.
He looked at me, and with a smile asked me: “How would you like to go to an island in the Pacific where less than five percent of the people attend church on Sunday?”
I responded excitedly: “Let’s go!”.
He calmly said: “You are standing on it!”
In the early 1980’s, church attendance on Maui was incredibly low. I got the message. Maui was a good place to share the Good News. I didn’t have to “go”. I was already “there”.It was a few years later in my studies that I understood why the Great Commission is often misunderstood as a command to pack your bags, leave your home, and go work in a foreign culture. There area a few words in the famous passage that should be understood in their original context.
The word translated “Go” is the Greek word “poreuomai” which has the meaning to pursue the journey on which one has entered; to continue on one’s journey; to proceed.
“Therefore” is the Greek word “oun” which means then, therefore, accordingly, consequently, these things being so.
The next word, translated “Make Disciples” is the key word. It is mathēteuō, which has the meaning of: to be a disciple of one, to follow his precepts and instructions; or to make a disciple; to teach, instruct. Of the four verbs in this passage (Go, make, teach, baptize) this word mathēteuō is only verb in the Imperative (aorist), command form. The other three verbs are in the “continuous action” form.
The final significant word, often translated “Nations” is Ethnos: a race, nation, people group. Putting all these concepts together, and understanding the grammar, we hear Jesus literally saying:
All Authority in the Universe has been given to me. Since these things are so, pursue the journey on which you have entered, and disciple the races and ethnic people groups, teaching them all the things I told you and baptizing them. Remember, I will be with you always as you do this.”
Where ever in the world that we happen to be “going”, Jesus commands us to be about the business of making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them the Word of God. It is that direct, and that simple. Peter was told by Jesus (John 21) to not only “follow” but to “Feed My Sheep” and “Tend My Lambs”.
The First stage in Discipleship is Being a Disciple of Jesus. This is the second stage is the natural progression of every true disciple: Making Disciples.
Paul communicated a similar message to his disciple Timothy.
You have heard me teach many things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Teach these great truths to trustworthy people who are able to pass them on to others. 2 Timothy 2:2
There are many “modern formulas” for discipleship. Some involve heavy-handed authoritarian oversight of new converts, while others focus on simply numbers of personal commitments to Christ. These programs often set aside time in the week for “disciple-making activities” that will bring people into the church in a focused, systematic manner. Building the Kingdom becomes a “program” that if we put in our time, and follow the formula, that will bring “great numbers” into our local churches.
The Biblical record suggests another manner. We see it in the life of Jesus, and in the lives of the brothers and sisters of the Early Church. Some of my most significant learning experiences in life have followed this model of relational discipleship.
When I was in flight training in the Navy, one valuable skill that we had to acquire was flying in formation with other airplanes– we’re talking Blue Angles formations. The first attempt at flying two feet from the wingtip of the lead aircraft resulted in wild, dangerous gyrations, until my instructor took over and showed me how it was done– with gentle movements of the stick and throttle. Then he told me to place my right hand on the stick and left hand on the throttle so that I could feel his smooth movements. Soon he told me that I was to control the jet, with his hands monitoring my movements. After many minutes of this, he told me look back in the mirrors. I did, and to my surprise, he was holding his hands high over his head, off the controls. I had been was flying two feet from the lead aircraft all by myself!
Think back on how you have acquired a skill or knowledge. It’s a process that here on Earth usually involves four steps, in this order:
1) I do it; 2) I do it with You; 3) You do it with Me; 4) You do it.
This is the basic process where you personally pass on skill to another person through a working relationship. My experience learning to fly in formation followed these basic steps.
My first intensive weapons training in the Navy happened at El Centro California in November 1975, far from our home base in Whidbey Island Washington. It was two weeks of isolation and concentrated training- away from family, friends, and other distractions. We had classroom training before arriving on firing rockets and visual dive bombing, and now it was the time for practical application. We went on two flights per day\night, practicing 40 degree dives from 10,000 feet over the target, with a weapons release at 5000 feet and 500 knots. It was quite a maneuver, pulling the A-6 inverted toward the target, accelerating and diving at 9000 feet per minute, all the while trying to get the center of our gun sight over the bullseye at the proper release point. Corrections to dive angle, altitude, airspeed, and wind had to be recognized and made instantaneously. It was quite thechallenge to get one of those blue practice bombs within 300 feet of the “bull”. We students flew with our instructors; we ate our meals with them; we hung out with them at the O Club after flights. We listened to them as they shared their experiences in weapons delivery. Often they taught often us more at the bar than in the classroom. It was learning through experience and relationship!
During this time, we went from “mechanical” programmed weapons delivery, to getting the feel of the aircraft and “the picture” of the target at the proper release point. Learned instincts began to replace the rote procedures, and soon we were placing the practice bomb within 100 feet of the target, and occasionally inside the 10 foot circle that defined the bullseye. Weapons delivery became a huge dart game, a sporting event, and an art form. In the process we became expert bombers- some of the very best in the world.
What is the lifestyle of the Christian to be? How do we become “instinctive” disciple makers?
Obviously the first place to go is the life of Jesus. What was His “methods” of bringing people into the Kingdom? How did He reach the crowds, and work with individuals. It also helps to then look at what the First Century church did. We find one “instructional section” in the book of Acts, and another in Paul’s first letter to his friends in Thessalonica.
First, let’s look at The Master of Making Disciples. Jesus Himself gives us the ultimate example of a lifestyle of discipleship. He once gave his disciples a very culturally significant illustration of how to begin making disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:13-16
The typical modern understanding of these verses is found in F.F. Bruce’ book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus:
“This implies that the disciples have a particular function to perform on earth, and that if they fail to perform it, they might as well not exist, for all the good they will do. In what respect they are said to be salt is not specified, so the nature of their function has to be inferred from the context and from what is know of the effect of salt; They may be intended to have a preserving and purifying effect on their fellows, or to add zest to the life of the community, or to be a force for peace. The idea of an insipid Christian ought to be a contradiction in terms.”
Although this understanding may make sense to the modern reader, the message for the First Century audience was more focused and specific. Looking at this passage through the eyes of those First Century disciples gives us a Cultural Understanding, and a clue to truly effective discipleship.
Salt had a special significance to Biblical people. It was used for flavoring food, and for “salting” fish and other meats to prolong their shelf life. If you go into a Bedouin tent today, you will find a bowl with salt (often clumped together with dirt) on the table. You reach with your hand, crumble the salt, and then sprinkle it over your food. When there becomes more dirt in the bowl than salt, the woman of the tent comes over, takes the bowl and throws the contents out of the tent. Then she brings a fresh clump of salt to the table. Archeologists often identify the street of ancient cities by the salt content of the soil.
Salt has a deeper meaning to Middle Eastern people. In a modern Bedouin marriage ceremony, salt is placed between the hands of the bride and groom as they are pronounced husband and wife. To the Biblical person as well as the modern Middle Eastern, salt has the significance of loyalty and fidelity.
Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.” Mark 9:50
Jesus was instructing his disciples to be known by their loyalty to their friends and family. This is consistent to other Biblical teaching about relationships, gossip, and disunity. Paul instructed the believers in Colossae to:
Let you speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. Colossians 4:6
Light has many usages in Biblical imagery, but the one referred to here is probably the “sanctified life” of the Believer. The Dictionary of Biblical Images states:
“In the NT, the sanctified life is repeatedly associated with light. In the famous passage on holy living that concludes the epistle to the Romans, believers are commanded to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:12). Equally evocative is the picture in Ephesians 5:8-9: “Once you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and true”. The calling of Christians is to “shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15)
Living as “Salt & Light”, through sanctified lives with loyal, giving hearts, is the model for building relationships for the Kingdom. It is the “Love God, Love Your Neighbor”commandment that Jesus says sums up the entire Hebrew Scriptures (Torah and the Prophets). It is at the heart of the Christian Lifestyle of Making Disciples.
While modern methods of evangelism and discipleship may focus on tracts, response to sermons, Bible classes and Discipleship programs, Jesus gave us a model of “relational discipleship”.
What was the “Jesus Method”?
Traditionally, we think that the disciples saw Jesus, heard his call, and dropped everything to follow Him. We get this idea when we read Matthew’s account of Peter’s call:
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to them, “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and went with him A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. Matthew 4:18-22 (NLT)
It helps to understand the objectives of the writer of the Gospel to draw out the eternal principles. Matthew’s purpose was to tell us Jesus’ words. His gospel is really five sermons that Jesus gave, with selected information that connects it all together. Luke, on the other hand, had a very specific objective in writing his account of Jesus’ life.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4 NAS
Luke, with his logical Greek mind, was all about putting things in order. Let’s take a look at the chronological order of Jesus’ relationship with His Disciples. We see the following:
Luke 4:31: Jesus enters Capernaum;
4:31-37 Teaching, Healing, Demonic Cleansing;
4:38-39 Heals Peter’s mother-in-law, then eats with them;
5:2 Borrows Peter’s boat for teaching;
5:4-7 Sends out Peter’s boats for the “Big Catch”
5:6 Peter’s confession
5:9-11 Call of Peter, James, John
There is a pattern that Jesus has when it comes to evangelism and discipleship. First He “notices” (Matthew 9:9 & Mark 2:14) a person or group. Then we see Jesus “hanging out” (Matthew 9:10 & Mark 2:15) with this person or small group.
A good example of this willingness to ‘hang” with strangers is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritian woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar. Normally Jews and Samaritians didn’t interact, especially women and men. This meeting took place in the middle of a travel day, and Jesus was in need of a drink from the well, but He knew that the woman was in need of a drink of His Living Water. The fact that she was at the well at the middle of the day rather than the customary early morning time when most of the other women from the village came for their household water indicates that this woman was not part of the village social network, which was later confirmed by Jesus’ prophetic words to her.
7Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
9The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water? 12And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?”
13Jesus replied, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. 14But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
15“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.”
16“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
17“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—18for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.”
19“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet!” John 4:7-19
Notice how Jesus reaches out with courtesy to this woman, and how He brings the conversation to a spiritual level. He sparks her interest and she responds. He then gives her a “Word of Knowledge” (1 Cor 12:8) that touches her spirit. Soon she is convinced that He is indeed the Messiah.
39Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay at their village. So he stayed for two days, 41long enough for many of them to hear his message and believe. John 4:39-41
Jesus was willing to interact with total strangers, in hope that He would have opportunity to give them the message of restored relationship with God. He trusted in His divine ability to speak truth in their lives. He knew that strangers responded to kindness and attentiveness. In these encounters, he often stepped across cultural barriers and shared his meals with the unsaved.
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people—even eating with them! Luke 15:1-2
According to the traditions of the religious sects, physical contact with non-Jews and lower class “unclean” people made you “unclean”. They would never allow such sinful people touch them, or share food with them. Jesus was not constrained by these artificial religious barriers. He was willing to spend time with any potential disciple. Here is one good example recorded in the book of Luke.
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was one of the most influential Jews in the Roman tax-collecting business, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree beside the road, so he could watch from there.
5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today.”
6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the crowds were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham. Luke 19:1-9 (NLT)
Jesus shared many meals with his disciples as well as strangers. Remember, in the mind of the Middle Easterner, you only eat with your friends. Jesus, through cultural language, was extending his friendship to these outcasts from Jewish society. In an interesting side note, we see Jesus’ disciples constantly arguing over “who is the greatest”. We may wonder why, until we realize that the seating arrangement at a First Century meal was fixed- the “greatest” always sat to the right of the host. Many times when they were arguing this, they were on their way to dine! Sharing meals together was a very significant event!
We also see Jesus teaching to large crowds, and to his “small group”. He used the “crowd” setting to say things that would draw many to more intimate encounters with him and his disciples. He understood the value of having a small group that He could not only share words, but also His lifestyle.
Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. There was such a large crowd along the shore that he got into a boat and sat down and spoke from there. 2 He began to teach the people by telling many stories such as this one:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plant sprang up quickly, 6 but it soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades so that it produced no grain. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” Then he said, 9 “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!”
10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him, “What do your stories mean?”
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret about the Kingdom of God. But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: Mark 4:1-11
Mark goes on to explain this interaction with the crowd and small group:
33 He used many such stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they were able to understand. 34 In fact, in his public teaching he taught only with parables, but afterward when he was alone with his disciples, he explained the meaning to them. Mark 4:33
In addition to building relationships through hanging out, sharing meals, teaching moments, Jesus was also willing to be interrupted in his teaching and discipling ministry. One example is the account of a day (luke 8) that included interruptions from a demonized man, a leader of the synagogue in Capernaum, and a woman in the crowd. Luke records a typical “interruption” later on in chapter 18.
As they approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. 36 When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was going by. 38 So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 The crowds ahead of Jesus tried to hush the man, but he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. 41 Then Jesus asked the man, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord,” he pleaded, “I want to see!”
42 And Jesus said, “All right, you can see! Your faith has healed you.” Luke 18:35-42 (NLT)
From the Gospels we can see that:
1) Jesus taught the large crowds;
2) He spent quality time with many people, from the rich and politically powerful to the down and outcasts.
3) He lived with his disciples, sharing His life with them;
3) He was willing to stop anytime to interact with anyone who was a potential disciple.
As we look at the “Jesus Method”, it would be good to consider some practical applications.
1) What is the power of loyal, faithful, giving relationships and living a truly sanctified life in our society?
2) Are we willing to be “interrupted” from out agenda and schedule and stop to serve a potential disciple?
3) How will our individual efforts combined with other Christians’ personal discipleship affect the world?
These are worthy points to ponder. Our answers will determine our effective in bringing others into the Kingdom.
Next, let’s look at the lifestyles of Jesus’ disciples. What did they get from the life of Jesus that affected their disciple-making? Luke describes some powerful moments in the book of Acts that give us some answers to this question. After an incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the “Second Pentecost”, Luke gives us a portrait of the daily lives of those early followers of Jesus.
They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
This passage gives an accurate description of the lifestyle of many of the disciples of the First Century Church. Notice how Luke describes their devotion to:
1) Studying the Word.
We have already seen the seven reasons why we should be studying the Word. Guidance, Wisdom, Correction, and Knowing God, are just a few good reasons that our modern lifestyle should include a daily ration of God’s Word.
The Greek word here is koinonia, which is defined as “close mutual association”, and “participation”. There is a special dynamic when human beings filled with God’s Holy Spirit join together. This “close mutual association” is a fertile ground for spiritual growth. It is also a place of protection.
When we flew into combat situations in the Navy, we survived by a concept known as Mutual Support, which included four elements. Flying into a hostile environment in the real world is very similar to our life as Christians in a hostile spiritual world.
- a) Accountability- We flew in specific formations, following our section and division leaders and allowing them to do their jobs, while the wingmen did theirs. We made sure that each aircraft was in the proper place, performing their individual functions.
- b) Assistance– The formation was designed to provide many sets of eyeballs to search the skies for enemy aircraft in each sector. We always had somebody checking the airspace at our 6 o’clock position- our blind spot. We were always in position to provide assistance to any of our aircraft who needed cover.
- c) Accuracy- Because of our formation, we had the ability to stay focused on our objectives, even in tough circumstances. Each was helping the other.
- d) Stay Alive!- The main objective was “not to die for our country- but make the enemy die for his” ( George Patton, 1942) and to survive this battle to fight the next.
Mutual Support is vital to the health of the Disciple and the body of Christ!
3) “Breaking Bread” – Communion – Intimate moments with God and each other
The Middle Eastern view is, “if I eat with a person, I am his friend!”. Sharing meals is a form if personal intimacy. You learn a lot about a person when you spend quality time with them. Christianity is not learning about God, but actually experiencing and enjoying our relationship with Him!
4) Prayer is communication that is essential for a healthy relationship with your Father.
The Disciples’ had a focused lifestyle of Loving God and Loving Each Other.Notice how their lifestyle included many practical expressions of their love for each other. They:
1) Met together constantly; i.e. They loved each other with their time;
2) Shared their material goods; They Loved Each Other with their possessions;
3) Worshiped together: They loved God Together;
4) Shared meals together; They Loved each other with intimate moments;
5) Praised the Lord All The Time; They maintained an attitude of Love toward God- all the time.
What was the result of this lifestyle?
“And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.”
They were enjoying life, having fun. Enjoying their relationships, and while all that was going on, many people were being brought into the Kingdom. This is the effective lifestyle of evangelism and discipleship.
Now let’s fast forward a few decades to see what the next generation of disciples did in their efforts to bring people into the Kingdom. The famous missionary Paul wrote a letter to a group of his disciples in Greece about 20 years after the “Day of Pentacost”. In it, he reveals the manner in which his ministry team developed relationships, shared the Gospel, encouraged the believers, and made an effective group of disciples.
You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, even though we were surrounded by many who opposed us. 3 So you can see that we were not preaching with any deceit or impure purposes or trickery.
4 For we speak as messengers who have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He is the one who examines the motives of our hearts. 5 Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you very well know. And God is our witness that we were not just pretending to be your friends so you would give us money! 6 As for praise, we have never asked for it from you or anyone else. 7As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but we were as gentle among you as a mother* feeding and caring for her own children. 8 We loved you so much that we gave you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.
9 Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that our expenses would not be a burden to anyone there as we preached God’s Good News among you. 10 You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were pure and honest and faultless toward all of you believers. 11And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. 12 We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you into his Kingdom to share his glory.
13 And we will never stop thanking God that when we preached his message to you, you didn’t think of the words we spoke as being just our own. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it was. And this word continues to work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13
Here are a few principles that we derive from Paul’s experience and methods.
1) His team proclaimed the Gospel in spite of opposition. We see that bold obedience in following the Lord leads to changed lives.
2) Paul trusted in God to do the work, and was thus freed from having to manipulate his new friends into accepting the Gospel. With our security in God, we don’t have to bend the truth, use flattery or trickery. Our objectives are to see God’s purposes served, not our own gain or fame.
3) Effective ministry is all about complete servant hood. A lifestyle of consistent selfless acts loudly proclaims God’s love for His people. Doing what is best for others has profound impact for the Gospel.
4) Disciples are made through modeling right behavior and encouraging others in practical steps of Godly character building.
5) God has a Divine Plan for each member of “His Family” which includes His Diving Power to change lives. Sticking to God’s Word and principles instead of our own words and feelings produces lasting fruit the lives of each disciple.
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. John 15:5-8,16
Jesus and the disciples of the First Century Church practiced a “relational discipleship” method, which was based on the “Big Three” Commandments of the Christian Scriptures: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, Love your neighbor as yourself, and Proceed and Disciple the Nations. For All Modern Christians, the Three Big Commandments in the New Testament cannot be ignored. They contain the essence of the Heart of God:
- A Desire for intimacy with us;
- A desire for intimacy with one another;
- A desire to leave nobody out of God’s Great Plan for humanity
Together they form a simple, but Divine recipe for Discipleship, which no man made formulas can add to.
Developing Disciplines for Discipleship
- Think of the role models that God has given you for being and making disciples. Who is a good teacher? Who works well with children? Who handles stress well? Who is a good financial planner? Paul told his disciples in Corinth:
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 1 Cor 11:1
- Study the Godly examples that God has placed around you. Imitate them in their Godly ways. Cultivate your relationships with them. Become their disciples.
- Notice who God has placed “in your shadow” for the purpose of discipleship. Cultivate your relationships with them.
The Bible Through First Century Eyes
The aircraft that we flew in the Navy were complicated, expensive machines. The A-6 Intruder was manufactured by Grumman Corporation, and was the most sophisticated attack aircraft in the world- and one of the most expensive of it’s time – $37 million each. There were over 300 switches and circuit breakers in the cockpit that had to be properly set for the aircraft to function normally. The Pilot and Bombidier/Navigator had to go through eights months of special training just to learn all the aircraft systems and become proficient in accomplishing the all-weather attack mission of the Intruder.
All the information for the systems and flight performance for the Intruder were in an almost four-inch-thick book called the NATOPS manual. “NATOPS” is short for Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization. This was the book that was the “Bible” for all of us in the A-6 community. This book told us how the electrical, hydraulic, engine, radar, and weapons systems functioned, how the airplane performed in all situations, and what to do in case of emergencies. It was the complete guide to “How to survive flying the A-6 Intruder through mountain passes in foul weather at night, delivering a variety of bombs, rockets, and missiles onto a target, and flying back to the ship to make an arrested landing.” We memorized large portions of this book. We were required to take a very through examination each year to prove our proficiency. It was serious business! We were told that the pages were “written in blood” by crews who had been killed through many accidents over the years.
Fortunately for the followers of Jesus, God has also given us a “NATOPS” manual that tells us about our spiritual world, how we operate, who God is, His “procedures for life, and the Grand Plan for all mankind. It is called the Bible, and it is the all time best seller. All serious Christians at some point begin to study the Bible. How we interpret this all-important book can result in focused productive lives, or in confused, religious behavior. It all has to do with our methods of interpretation, which we call hermeneutics.
The Bible claims itself to be inspired by God, even though written by at least 39 human individuals. It claims authority over all portions of our lives.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, fortraining in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
When the first missionaries took the Gospel from Israel to the Roman and Greek cultures, People naturally began interpreting Bible through their own cultural understanding. Here are how the major centers of Christianity understood the Bible:
1) Jerusalem: Scripture calls all believers into harmony with God’s promises and restrictions to the Jewish people. As to this new movement, many wanted the Gentile believers to understand God’s special relationship with the Jews, while others wanted all Gentiles to become Jews.
2) Alexandria: the home of the allegorical belief. The Hebrew Scriptures were not accepted on face value and made to be “allegories”. There was a separation of “modern Christian” thought from “ancient Hebrew” writings. From this “school” came many of the “Lost” gospels of Thomas, and others.
3) Antioch: less extreme than Alexander, but showing a disdain for Jewish practices among believers; Ignatius best illustrated this approach. A light mix of allegory and generally divorces view of Jewish and Christian literature.
4) Rome: A variety of approaches to the Scripture evident. The Apologist School of Justin Martyr reflects the notion that Jesus offered the revelation that began through men like Socrates and Plato. Justin had a particular bend against the Jewish claim to the Scriptures. On the other side were men like Clement who was well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and acknowledged a respected Bible teachers
During the past two millennium, interpreting the Scriptures has covered the entire spectrum from literal word-for-word application to a total allegorical understand discarding any passage of Scripture when convenient. Here are some examples of hermeneutics gone off course:
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. John 15:5-6
In the 14th century, Spain began the Inquisition, which was infamous for torturing and killing “heretics”. People with beliefs about Christianity that differed from official church dogma were questioned under torture, forced to “confess their sins” and recant their “heretical beliefs”. If you look at the issues, it appears that many of us (including modern day Catholics!) would have been on the torture rack!
The grand inquisitor was monk named Tomas de Torquemada, who appeared to take this passage from John 15 literally. About 2000 people were burned at the stake during Torquemada’s term of office. As it was in other European judicial systems, torture was used to gain evidence, and a wide range of offenses were prosecuted, including heresy, witchcraft, bigamy, and usury. The major debate among the priests was not whether this torture was proper in accordance with God’s Word, but rather that when it came to killing one of these “heretics”, could the priest actually do the killing, or should the executioner be somebody else? After all, a priest has his role as a guide to life. Do you think these priests were missing major chapters and verses from their Bibles? How do we explain this torture and killing in light of the Scripture?
So a woman should wear a covering on her head as a sign of authority because the angels are watching. 1 Cor 11:10
When I first went to Central America in 1984 to work with Miskito Indian refugees, I immediately noticed many Miskito women wearing lace doilies on their head when they were in a church. When I asked why, I was told simply the Bible says a woman should not be in church without her head covered. After all, Paul told the church in Corinth that their women should have their heads covered. It seems there was something going on in Corinth that caused Paul to order this practice.
Research reveals that there was a prominent temple to the goddess Aphrodite in ancient Corinth. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and her temple was at the top of the acropolis where hundreds of priestesses joined the men in a very sexual form of worship. The head priestess became the richest and most influential person in town, along with other temple prostitutes. Eventually the women of Corinth dominated the men of the city. When families began to come to Christ, many brought this same attitude into the church, which was out of God’s order. When Paul ordered the women to “cover their heads” (1 Corinthians 11), Paul was recommending a symbol of submission to God’s order (verse 3) “because of the angels”. Since prostitutes often had short hair, Paul was probably also recommending a head covering “of authority”, meaning that these former prostitutes were now members of Christ’s family, while their hair was growing back to a more culturally respectable length. When the missionaries brought the Gospel to the Coco River 80 years ago, women began wearing things on their head when they came to church, even though there is not the same problem of female dominance or short-haired prostitutes in Miskito culture that there was in Corinth.
O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! Psalm 137:8-9
What do you do with this verse? Phil Yancy spent a chapter in The Bible That Jesus Read on trying to figure out how this verse fits into the Bible. This is an example of lamentation literature and a Jewish style of praise called “Tehilah”, where one pours out his heart to the Lord and tells him exactly how he is feeling. This is not an instruction, commandment, or principle. It is simply one man’s anguish over his captivity. Yet many times this verse and others have been used to justify a slaughter of innocents “in God’s name”.
“______________________” (no verse)
During my high school years, a friend took me to her church, which was across the street from mine. As I looked around while waiting for the service to begin, I noticed the absence of an organ or piano. When the worship leader got up to begin the singing, he leaned over and blew into a small pitch pipe. The singing began, without using any musical instruments. We sang acapella and it was very nice. Afterward I asked my friend why they did not use any instruments, and she replied (quite proudly!): “We are a New Testament church, and there is no mention in the New Testament of the use of any instruments. That’s why we worship with our voices only.”
I had to think about that one for a while. David used musical instruments, but I guess that was “Old Testament”. Does it make a difference? I did notice an attitude of exclusivity among that congregation because of their “true” form of worship. There was very little interaction with other churches in the town.
In recent years, we have spent time at the School of Worship in Jerusalem, and studied the culture of the early church. The early Christians were worshiping God according to Jewish customs. One of the words in the book of Psalms that is translated “praise” in English is the Hebrew word “zamar” which means to praise the Lord by using a musical instrument (Psalm 108:1). Doesn’t this command still apply?
Here is another example of modern men and women who love the Lord interpreting and applying Scripture in a “modern” fashion, ignoring or ignorant of what was happening in the Early Church, and in the process building walls separating them from the rest of the Body of Christ.
According to our friend Dr. Randall Smith, there are often Three Problems when we try to make sense out of the Bible:
1) We have a False Division of the Bible: “Old” Testament and “New” Testament, and confusion over the meaning of the “New Covenant”. Actually there are seven types of literature in the Bible.
2) We have a faulty interpretation: We try to fit Scripture into our culture and time.
3) We often have a false application: We forget that Scripture was not written to us, but for us- for our benefit. We forget it is the principles that we are to follow, not necessarily the cultural practices prescribed in the Bible, and end up binding people to restrictions that God never intended us to follow. We forget the heart of God that is revealed in the Scriptures, and focus on our list of convenient “rules”.
How do we avoid these modern and ancient pitfalls of understanding Biblical truth and applying it to our personal lives?
Anthropologists tell us it is essential to understand the Bible within its own cultural and historical setting. This is the first step required if we are to draw Truth from the Scriptures for our own lives, and for the benefit of the people around us.
Dr. Paul Heibert, professor of Anthrogology at Fuller Seminary, is one of many experts who points out in his classic, Anthropological Insights For Missionaries (p.14), the essential value of knowing the cultural-historical context of the Bible, as well as understanding the culture of the people we are trying to reach. Without these two essential elements, we are in danger of proclaiming a message to other cultures that has no meaning.
The Challenge for us today is to:
First: Understand the Bible in its historical and cultural context;
Second: Extract Biblical Truth that we can apply to our own lives.
Then we are qualified to proclaim this Message and give this Truth to those around us.
Long ago, a famous Biblical refugee named Ezra faced a similar challenge.
For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra 7:10
How then are we to discern what the message of the Bible actually is?
As Peter declares (1 Peter 2:9), we are a nation of priests. We have all been given the right to read and personally interpret the Scriptures. Our interpretation must be accurate and faithful to the Biblical text. It cannot be viewed only through our modern cultural perspective, but must be understood within the context of when it was originally presented.
As we do this it is important to remember that the Bible has a culture of its own: the values, moral, and truths of the Bible stand alone and above all other “cultures”.
When we open the Bible, we literally step out of the 21st century and back into time. The writers of the Bible wrote to a particular audience. They never realized there would be people 2000 years later reading their books and letters. However the Holy Spirit did! This audience spoke a different language and thought in a different manner than we do. In addition, the writers assumed that you, the audience, knew certain things, many of which we have forgotten today. It is important to understand that just because two people “understand” exactly what was said doesn’t mean that the two of them have the same concept of what was being communicated at all. That happens in marriage and especially in cross-cultural communication.
My friend Randy Smith, while he was an archeology student living in St. Anne’s convent along the Via Dolorosa in The Old City of Jerusalem, innocently invited the 15 year-old daughter of the Arab cleaning lady to see the John Wayne movie playing at the local cinema. She turned white, spun around, and ran away. The next day the cleaning lady came excitedly to Randy telling him how happy she was that he was going to marry her daughter. Randy immediate went to his professor asking “What happened?”
His professor explained that in Arab culture, a lady only goes to the movies with her husband. Randy’s innocent invitation was a marriage proposal. It took months of delicate procedures to extract himself from that arrangement while maintaining the honor and reputation of the Arab girl.
Here is Dr. Smith’s learned perspective:
“As we come into the Scriptures and try to understand what is going on in the pages, we have to realize when I open my Bible, I step out of my 21st century world and go to another culture in another time. So it is a little more than just reading it and believing it. Mark Twain is the one who said, “We know a lot of things that just ain’t so.”
“The reality is this: There is not one word of Scripture written to me personally, but every word of Scripture was written for me.”
“When God spoke, He spoke to a specific people at a specific time in a specific place to benefit me much later- but not to me. He said it to them in a way that they would understand it. I’ve got to do something more than just read it and believe it.
It’s like putting a tea bag into hot water- I’ve got to allow the Scripture to permeate my “water” and change who I am by the principles involved in it. It is the principle behind the cultural practice that I am after. What everlasting truth can I draw from this story that is relevant and applicable to my life today? We believe that there is a simple and direct manner to understand Scripture.
We call it:
The Principle Approach to Scripture.
Look at a simple example from Leviticus 1:
Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.
‘If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. Leviticus 1:1-3
In verse one, we see God calling out to Moses. From this I know God often takes the initiative in His fellowship with mankind. This is an important principle for me to remember when I am feeling far from God.
In verse two, God orders the people to bring an offering from their own herd or flock. I can conclude that God wants me to return to Him some of the things He has freely given me. This is a good principle of relationship between God and me, and an important principle of God’s economics.
In verse three, God says to bring an animal without defect. From this I see God wants my best; He will not be happy with a half-hearted response from me. If He asks me to give $100 to the missionaries, He will not be pleased if I give only $50. If I am to paint the widow’s house, He wants me to use the best paint I can afford.
According to some teachings, I could throw out Leviticus by saying “We are not under the Law!”, but I then would miss many of God’s Truths that apply very well to my life today. If we read the Scriptures, searching for the principles and truths behind the specific cultural practices, then we begin to receive life from the Word of God, not just dusty, out-of-date commandments.”
One thing to realize is that the Bible is a library of 66 books. This library, like many modern libraries, contains different types of literature. The “Type” of literature determines the steps to take to understand and extract the everlasting truths and principles. Let’s face it, we read a court document much different that we would read the lyrics to a love song. It is the same with the Bible.
Here are the
The Seven Types of Literature in the Bible
1) Biography: Many parts of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, parts of the History books, Daniel, Jonah, the Gospels & Acts. Notice the “acts and scenes” which the narrative is divided into and look for the points the author is trying to make.
2) Prescriptive Epistles: Paul’s, Peter’s, John’s, Jame’s. and Jude’s letters. Ask yourself “What are the problems that the writer is addressing?” “To whom is the letter addressed?” “Is this letter written to a certain people group or an individual?”
3) Lamentations: Includes selected Psalms, Lamentations, Habbakuk. Notice how the writer moves from the human perspective to the Divine.
4) Legal Code and Covenant Treaty: Parts of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Look at the behavior and the consequences and seek to determine God’s chief concern. Ask yourself “What part of God’s heart is displayed in this passage?”.
5) Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes. Focus on the “Truism” or principle, not the specifics. These offer guidance, not guaranteed success.
6) Poetics: Many of the Psalms, parts of Exodus. Treat like the illusive lyrics of songs, which they are. An understanding of images used is essential to understanding the often veiled truths.
7) Prophetic works: Most of the Minor Prophets and Revelation. The writers focused on Coming Judgment and Blessing, Exposing sin, and Political Commentaries. These are filled with understandings of God’s heart and principles for living.
Understanding the type of literature is the first step in receiving the intended message and a safeguard in keeping our hermeneutics on course.
In our years working with Dr. Smith, we have come up with some guidelines that may help us understand the Bible as the believers in it’s cultural context, as the First Century did and extract the everlasting principles for our lives today.
God always speaks to mankind in a way they can understand.
In Genesis 15 we see God making a promise to Abraham and Abraham’s belief. Why did Abraham so firmly believe that God was going to do what He promised? It was through a very unusual (in our modern eyes) cultural practice that “God sealed the deal”.
And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7And He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” 8He said, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. 12Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. . . .17It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. Gen 15:5-17
- What significance did the split carcasses have for businessmen of Abram’s time?
Jeremiah 34:18-20 explains that in those days, business men, politicians, and friends made pacts by cutting animals in half, and walking together through the split carcass, pausing in the middle and looking at each other saying “If I don’t keep my end of this deal, may I become like this dead animal.”
- What caused Abram to believe God?
When God passed through the split carcasses by himself, Abraham knew that God’s promises did not depend on whether Abraham keep his end of the deal.
This is a great example of how God spoke to a person in a way that he would understand, even though it makes little sense on our world. People in ancient cultures thought differently that us. When God walked by Himself between the halved animals, this gesture had a major impact on Abraham. It changed His world. He suddenly got very excited about what God was doing. But it makes no sense to us. We say to ourselves “What IS going on here?” Perhaps now is a good time to ask the question:
How did the Biblical Jews and Greeks think?
First of all there is:
Function vs. Form
Hold up a coffee cup and ask the First Century Greek and Jew to describe it. The Greek will tell you its color, the shape, how tall it is, how wide it is, and what the curve in the handle is like.The Jew will say simply: “With this I can drink coffee.”
Greeks think in terms how it appears. Jews think in terms of what it does.
This is helpful when it comes to understanding a particularly confusing passage found in the Song of Songs. Here the writer describes his beloved by saying:
Your belly is like a heap of wheat fenced about with lilies. Song of Songs 7:2
Around my house, saying that would get me the cold shoulder or a quick slap. We are Greek thinkers. But the Jewish lover is saying that his beloved will be very fruitful, bearing him many children from her belly- her womb- the heap of harvested wheat. Having many children meant that you would have income in your retirement years.
This functional thinking causes God to describe Himself as:
I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. Lev 25:38.
“This is what I did and what I am going to do.”
When we read the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus describing himself seven times as “I Am. . .” , The Bread of Life, The Light of the World, The Door, the Good Shepherd, The Way, The Truth, and The Life. These are images John uses to appeal to the Greek thinking person.
Along with these seven “I Am’s” John also gives us seven miracles: Turning water into wine, Healing at a distance, Raising the paralytic, Feeding the five thousand, Walking on water, Healing the Blind, and Raising Lazarus from the dead. This would appeal to the functional, Hebrew-thinking person. Since John’s ministry was among both cultures, it is natural that he would include functional and form descriptions of Jesus. This is what makes John’s Gospel successful in its universal appeal.
Acceptance and Obedience vs.
Speculation and Application
Jewish rabbis taught that it was the duty of God’s people to accept the revelation God has given them and simply obey. They saw the pillar of fire and smoke at Mt. Sinai. This was God. As to what was above that pillar, they not only didn’t know, but they felt they didn’t have the right to even speculate about what God may or may not be. Their duty was to obey.
Greeks have a thing called logic that is very prominent in their culture, even today. They believe if they know “A” is greater than “B” and “A” is less than “C”, they can figure out the relationship between “B” and “C”. Remember they are the inventors of geometry! If they know some things about God, they can apply their logic to figure out the rest. When Greek-thinking people came into the church in large numbers in the Second Century, theology was born. The speculation of who God is, what He is really saying, and how we are to respond began at this point in time.
Jews never really developed a theology of God. They didn’t feel they had the right to. When you study Church history of the third through sixth centuries, we see councils, schisms, and excommunications. Applying logic to God often had divisive and disastrous results. When Emperor Constantine called the first major church council in the Fourth Century, many survivors of the persecutions of preceding emperors were present. It was a scene of amazement that those who, a few years earlier, were official enemies of the state were now dining with the Emperor in his royal palace. At one of the banquets, it was reported that Constantine approached one bishop who had lost an eye to torture and kissed him where the eye had been. When these church leaders (mostly Greek) later began their meetings to establish official church doctrines, they couldn’t agree, and many wanted to excommunicate each other. All agreed the Scriptures were inerrant, but many believed “inerrancy” applied to their logical interpretation of these Scriptures. That was a problem (and still is!), and finally Constantine intervened, forcing the council to come to an agreement on some of the major issues. This was the result of “speculation and application”. The Church has never been the same.
The First Century church was a Jewish church, but in the Second Century, there were more Greek-speaking and Greek-thinking Christians. The church literally went through the Greek Car Wash. The character of the church changed and issues that were not important to the First Century church suddenly became paramount.
Tribal Mentality vs Individualism
Most Jews were raised in an environment that emphasized the collective (the good of the many) over the individual (good of the one). They thought of themselves as first family members, then extended family (clans), next members of one of the twelve tribes, and finally the nation of Israel. Their mentality dictated that what benefited the group was more important than individual gain and comfort. Thus the king could offer lifetime tax exemption to the families of the sappers (who crawled under the walls of the enemies’ city and dug out under the rocks until they finally collapsed on top of them!) and have volunteers for this important but often suicidal job.
Greeks were more “individual” thinkers. Their literature portrayed the “Lone Hero” who overcame great odds, or fell prey to the schemes of the gods or his own failings. Painting and sculpture focused on the individual male and female forms. The importance of the individual gave rise to a unique form of government, Democracy, where every man had a voice in society. Democratic concepts didn’t really exist in Jewish society.
Greek influence was strong in Jewish society by the time of Jesus. In the First Century, Jews began burying their dead in individual “kochim” style tombs (where each body had its own separate chamber) instead of more traditional tombs where bodies were placed on a flat surface for decomposition, and after about 18 months, when the body decayed, the bones were place in a common ossuary (bone box) along with the bones of other family members.
A major theme of Paul’s letters to the churches deals with a concept of the Body of Christ (Gr: soma) and the importance of leaving behind a self-centered individualism and of adopting a “tribal mentality” of Christian community. He used the term at least 30 times in his letters.
Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Eph 4:16
He knew that this “collective” idea was a foreign concept to these Greek thinking Christians, but he also realized the important value that God places on giving to and doing what’s best for others, even when we have to sacrifice our own interests. After all, this value of self-sacrifice is at the very center of God’s heart.
This is also a new concept to many modern “western” thinking individuals who come into the church, and become part of the Body of Christ. We naturally model our lifestyles, our ministries, and our church government on democratic, individual-oriented principles, often without realizing that the Biblical model points us in another direction. That’s why The Holy Spirit included at least 21 commandments for loving “one another” in very practical and selfless manner in the Christian Scriptures.
There is a difference between
Narrative Scripture and Instructional Scripture.
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 1 Corinthians 4:6 NAS
Sometimes we place more meaning into a passage of Scripture than the writers intended. Paul cautioned the Corinthian church not to do that. Other times, things are recorded that just are not so. Remember the lengthy conversation between Job and his friends? When God appeared, he rebuked the three because they spoke things that were simply not true.
After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and with your two friends, for you have not been right in what you said about me, as my servant Job was.” Job 42:7
It is helpful to note that there are three things that Scripture contains: FACTS, TRUTH, and MYTH.
Fact is most of what happens. But remember when you tell a story you summarize it. You don’t give every detail, just the facts that make your point. The result is that in a Biblical narrative, there is often only partial information.
Truth is a little harder to grasp. When Jesus teaches, he uses a parable such as “There was a man traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem. . .” and you can imagine the crowd yelling out “What was his name?” What did he do for a living?” It doesn’t matter. The parable or illustration gives us a true Biblical principle, an everlasting truth applicable to all of mankind in all cultures. The point of the parable is just a truism. Details don’t necessarily matter. Hopefully the illustrations we use are like windows, opening our eyes to a Principle of Truth.
The third category is much more difficult to lay your hands on. This is Myth. These are often capitalized on and misused by various groups trying to use the Bible to prove a particular point. “Myth” is when the Biblical records accurately something that is not true. There is Satan saying to Eve “You surely shall not die!” Now you can read that. It’s in the Bible, but it doesn’t mean it’s true. It is true to say there are untrue things written in the Bible, but you have to read it understanding the writer is saying “This is not true but this is what was said.” In first chapter of the book of Ruth, Naomi declares: “for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me” (1:13). This too is myth, because the entire book of Ruth is the story of God’s hand turned toward Naomi.
There is a major difference in the Bible between a narrative of what happened or what was said, and instructions for the believer. In the text we have to ask ourselves “Is this an instruction, or a report of what was said?”
Here is an example of Narrative Scripture:
Late one afternoon David got out of bed after taking a nap and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent for her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. 2 Samuel 11:2
This is obviously a narration of something David did that was not a good thing for him, or his country. Can you imagine if we tried to use this passage as a Biblical Instruction with our wives? “Honey, adultery is in the Bible. . . .David, one of our heroes did it. . .”
Instructional Scripture is different:
Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Ephesians 5:18
This is a clear instruction of how to handle alcohol beverage.
What about Gideon? He was a man who received a command from an angel and responded by the famous Fleece Test.
Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israelthrough me, as You have spoken.” And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. Judges 5:36-40 NAS
Are we to lay out fleeces when God commands us to do something? This seems to be a common practice in our present Christian culture. Just because Gideon put his fleece out doesn’t mean we must teach our churches that we must all go out and buy fleeces, put them out, and this is how we make decisions. That is a report, a narrative of what Gideon did. The “Fleece Test” is the result of a man of God not believing a message from God given through an angel.
The instruction is to study the Scriptures, to know the Word, and then to walk with God through His Word, not through fleeces.
The Bible is a complete unit!
The Old Testament and New Testament are a continuous,
linked revelation of God to Mankind
Many modern Christians focus their Bible reading and study on the New Testament. Look at your own Bible and notice which pages are worn.
We naturally want the new, improved version of laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, stereo, television, and automobile. Old is simply “old” and ready for the dumpster (or to be sent to the missionaries!). We bring this same attitude when it comes to studying the Word of God. We think the New Testament is actually the “new and improved” Word of God, and the Old Testament is an archaic document no longer applicable to our society.
The reality is quite the opposite. The Bible is one continuous revelation of God to mankind. When we study the New Testament, it is hard to appreciate what God was doing in those latter times, unless we understand what He did in the pages of the Old Testament. Not only that, the writers assume you know the backdrop of the Old Testament to fully understand what they are describing in the pages of the New Testament.
For example, when you read Acts 2, the birth of the Church, it says, “and when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all in one accord and in one place.” The story tells of the sound of a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire on their heads, they begin to speak in known and unknown dialects, and people around them accuse them of being drunk. Peter says it’s early in the day, and they are not drunk. Rather this is what was spoken about by the prophet Joel, an incredible move of God, and he speaks a message.
At the end of this message many people are broken in their hearts and ask, “What shall we do?” And Peter replies, “Repent, and be baptized for the remission of your sins”. 3000 people were added to the church that day. The writer tells this wonderful story about what happened in Jerusalem and he expects you to understand verse 1: “When the day of Pentecost had fully come. . .”
What was Pentecost?
The first Pentecost took place in the wilderness with Moses and the ex-slaves from Egypt at Mt Sinai. Moses brought the people out of Egypt, and Exodus 19 tells us they arrived at the Mountain of the Law, 50 days after Passover. Moses goes up to the top of the mountain to meet with God, and he is there is for 40 days.
There is incredibly strange weather: fire, wind, and thunder. Moses comes down the mountain with the Law and what does he see the people doing? Are they waiting patiently for him saying, “Oh that we would hear from our God?” No! They are having a party, a wild sexual party. Moses tells the Levites to strap on their swords and kill all who are involved in this party. That day 3000 people died.
When Luke writes this account of the Second Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he assumes you understand the common elements with the first Pentecost story: wind, weather, all in one accord, fire, 3000 people, so you will understand the second story.
The point is very simple: With the going up on Sinai and the coming of the Law came knowledge of my sinfulness and death. But the coming of the Spirit brought a new revelation of God to write the Law within my heart, and brought life everlasting.
Luke thought the point was obvious, assuming you understood the significance of Pentecost as those First Century believers did.
Another example of how the Scriptures are inexorably linked is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John Chapter 3. Here is this learned teacher of the Jews, coming to speak to Jesus at night. Jesus tells him he must be “born again”. Nicodemus is confused and asks if he must crawl inside his mother’s womb again. Jesus says, “No, I am talking about spiritual things, a spiritual birth.”
Then Jesus, as all good teachers do, brings the student (Nicodemus) to a point of reference, of understanding. This point Jesus refers to is one of the most bizarre scenes in the Bible, Numbers chapter 21. It was the time when Moses was leading the people through the desert, and they were grumbling about their food, about water, about almost everything. Finally they spoke out against Moses’ leadership, saying “Why have you brought us into this desert to die?”
At this point God has had it, and sends venomous snakes into the camp. People get bit and start dying. They realize their sin, ask Moses for forgiveness, and God for help. God says, “O.K.” and tells Moses “ to make a snake out of bronze and attach it to a pole for all to see, so that anyone who looks at the snakes will be healed of the snakebite” (Numbers 21:9).
Reading this passage of Scripture alone can be very confusing! It appeared like some ritual cultic activity was happening that does not fit in with the rest of the Bible. Jesus brings it all together for Nicodemus (and us) when He says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert “I the Son of Man will be lifted up so that anybody who looks upon me with faith will have that poison called sin removed from their body and they will have eternal life.” John assumes we know Nicodemus knows as those stricken people looked at the serpent, the fatal poison injected by the snake into their body was removed. How can we appreciate Jesus on the cross unless we understand this picture God gave His people over a thousand years before in the desert?
When reading the Gospels, it is often not only helpful but imperative to look back at what happened in the Old Testament to have a full appreciation and understanding of what is actually being communicated. Otherwise it is possible to get lost, not catch the full flavor, or have the greatest appreciation that God wants us to have. In the worst case, people may get off on some weird doctrine, which historically happened many times to those who didn’t understand the historical and cultural context of a passage of Scripture.
What about the “Old ” and “New” Testament ?
The first reference to the Hebrew Scriptures as the “Old” Testament comes from an un-named Egyptian writer in a second-century document. The church in Alexandria created a movement to allegorize the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and to marginalize Hebrew cultural influences. Greek Christians tried to distance themselves from Hebrew culture and like Marcion, minimize any Hebrew influence over Christianity.
The name “Old Testament” is actually a misnomer. We usually refer them as the “Hebrew Scriptures”, because when you say “old” you suggest that it is something out of date. The term “Old Testament” is mis-derived from the passage in Hebrews 8 that says:
When God speaks of a new covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and ready to be put aside. Heb 8:13
If you look at the context of this passage, the author is talking about Levitical sacrifices verses the sacrifice that is Jesus. He is making the point that the Levitical sacrificial system is obsolete and out of date. The Roman even removed the place of sacrifice in 70 AD when they destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem!
In our view, both testaments are new, alive, and sharper than any two-edged sword and are busy in my life. Whether Abraham is being directed to do something or Paul is writing to Timothy, our understanding is there is one author of all this and He is the Spirit of God, a God who desires to draw us to Himself. And He does that in different ways in different places in the Scriptures. Understanding that helps pull it all together in a cohesive manner. So we don’t use the term “old” and “new” in regard to the Scriptures. Instead we refer to the two major portions of Scripture as “Hebrew Scriptures” and “Christian Scriptures”.
Are there differences between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures?
What about the character of God? Did He really change?
Some think the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is a harsh, strict character demanding obedience and ready to smash us when we step out of line, while the God of the Christian Scriptures is one of Grace who says, “Call me Daddy”, inviting us to jump in His lap. This was one of Marcion’s beliefs for which he was later excommunicated.
Psalm 103, in the Hebrew Scriptures, declares:
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:3-5
It is obvious that many “Old Testament” people viewed God as merciful, loving, and the Giver of all Good Things.
For the Lord God is our light and protector. He gives us grace and glory. No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who do what is right. O Lord Almighty, happy are those who trust in you. Psalm 84:11-12
Regarding the perception that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is one that demands obedience, it is the “God of the Christian Scriptures” (Jesus) who declares:
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. John 14:15
Notice the order: If you have a relationship of love with me where you trust me for everything, and know that I have your best interests at the center of my heart, and that I will do anything for you- even die for you, then obey the things I tell you to do. It’s not “Obey me and I will love you more.”
Regarding salvation, how was a person in the Hebrew Scriptures saved?
Many think it was strict observance of the Law, yet David declares:
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand— you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings. Then I said, “Look, I have come. And this has been written about me in your scroll: I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your law is written on my heart.” Psalm 40:6-8
God was never satisfied with the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats.
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:1,4 NAS
Even though the Bible refers to these sacrifices as “covering” sin, it wasn’t the covering that turned His wrath away. The Old Testament believer always came to God in the same way as the New Testament believer, by grace and through faith, because God was interested in your heart.
People may think they are doing what is right, but the Lord examines the heart. The Lord is more pleased when we do what is just and right than when we give him sacrifices. Proverbs 21:2-3
Now the outward actions determining obedience in your heart were different. I don’t have to sacrifice and stand in line at the altar, because the book of Hebrews is clear that there has been one sacrifice and I don’t need to do that anymore. I don’t need to afflict my soul, bow into the ashes, and moan into the sky. Whatever it is I have to do as a symbol of outward obedience is not what saves me; it’s what is going on in my heart.
So when blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, it was not the blood that did it. It was the action of reaching out the hand. The same action that defiled man in the Garden (the reaching for the forbidden fruit) is the same action that later helped him. Both were a reflection of what was going on in the heart. The High Priest reached out to pour that blood, his heart was right, and because his heart was obedient, and what was inside was right with God, the outward action came. We have a lot of believers who run around saying, “Keeping the Law saves people.” Keeping the Law never saved anybody. Walking with God saved people.
And how did that happen? When I submitted my heart and life to the God of the Ages, and then demonstrated obedience in whatever way He told me. If He told me to sacrifice a bull or goat, that is what I did. If it was to see the sacrifice of the Lamb on Calvary, and to accept it, then I did that. Whatever Truth was revealed, the important thing was always the heart response. We get caught up on the mechanics and the mechanics are not the issue. The “Old Testament” prophet Micah recognized this when he wrote:
What can we bring to the Lord to make up for what we’ve done? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and tens of thousands of rivers of olive oil? Would that please the Lord? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for the sins of our souls? Would that make him glad? No, O people, the Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6-8
The Old Testament Believer and the New Testament Believer were always saved by grace through faith. Some say “salvation by faith” is a Christian doctrine of the “New” Testament, yet the Hebrew Scriptures state plainly:
And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord declared him righteous because of his faith. Gen 15:6
You don’t really believe something unless you act on it. Mental assent is not going to get you to heaven. Ultimately God is satisfied when my heart is submitted to Him. We can simplify this down to one sentence. God has only one objective in your life, only one: To get your attention on Him, and keep it focused there. Everything else, as good as it may be, is not the Number 1 objective. Everything in my life must be submitted to this.
A close examination of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures reveal a consistency in important areas like worship, the importance of the Word, and the relationship between Mankind and God. That’s because it is the Living Unchanging God who is the author of all. He has not changed, nor have His ways. His desires for mankind remain constant, and none of His Word is “Old” and outdated, only updated! It’s like what the writer of Hebrews said:
Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. Heb 1:1
In essence he said: “I am going to put on skin and down there myself and tell exactly what it is I meant by what I said. You heard me, but you didn’t catch my heart. And I am not interested in the outward appearance of cutting the lamb’s throat with the knife in a certain way, and putting the blood in the proper place. I am interested in that, but to me it is a means to an end. That end is that you understand my heart and walk with me.”
Context is Everything!
God gives us His Word so we may have understanding. He wants us to have more than just “blind faith” in our relationship with Him. He gives us example after example of who He is, and how He interacts with mankind in the pages of the Bible. That’s the value of understanding the culture, language, geography, and political background, the context, of the Biblical text.
The challenge is to first understand the Bible in its historical and cultural context. It is only then we can draw out principles and everlasting truths to apply to our own lives. Once we do that, we can take the message to any place, into any culture, with any people. If we don’t have understanding of what God is really communicating in the Scriptures, we can easily become “religious” and try to fulfill the letter of the Law without understanding the intent.
Context is everything! Here are some examples of how knowing the background, or context, of the passage of Scripture changes the way you interpret it and apply it to your life:
How Biblical people lived provides insights into the message of the Bible. Here are some relevant points:
- The Greek Culture was a “missionary” culture that sought to capture the hearts and minds of the world.Alexander the Great had Aristotle as his tutor. He was as interested in spreading the superior Greek culture as he was in conquering nations! Gymnasium, athletic competitions, drama, and worship of the Pantheon were the usual means of dispersing Greek Culture, and it was very successful in most of the places where Alexander and his armies went;
- Jewish Culture clashed heavily with the Greeks.Worship of many gods and morality were big issues. For a Jewish boy to go to a Greek ‘gymnasium” meant he would have to discard much of the Biblical morality, as athletic competitions were done in the nude;
- Religious Jews lived apart from the Hellenistic (or Greek-thinking and -speaking) Jews, and would not go into a town where there was a pagan temple.This may explain why Peter, James, and John moved away from their hometown Bethsaida, where there was recently discovered a temple to Julia, the mother of Caesar Augustus, to Capernaum.
Understanding Greek Culture affects our understanding of the Scriptures:
Paul wrote to a church in Greece:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
We have various understandings of this passage, but to Paul’s audience, the message was perfectly clear. Here are the clues to understanding the principle:
Sounding Brass: a metal drum that was used by Greek actors to simulate the voice of a god backstage.
Clanging Cymbal: a piece of copper sheeting that was dropped to simulate the sound of thunder.
Paul says if I do all these things without love, I “simulate” being a Christian, just as those Hypocrites (Greek word for actors) “simulated” being gods. His audience in Corinth understood the conventions of Greek Drama. They receive very clearly a message that often gets muddled in our modern interpretations of this famous passage.
There are some Jewish cultural symbols that help our understanding of important parts of the Scripture:
As they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and asked God’s blessing on it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which seals the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out to forgive the sins of many. Matthew 26:27-28
When a young Hebrew man decided to marry the girl of his dreams, the first person that he went to was her father. He usually began his discussion by saying something like this: “Jacob, I was in my fields the other day when your daughter walked by. She is so ugly that all my sheep ran away and it took me three days to find them all”.
To which the father replied: “You are mistaken my son, my daughter is a beautiful girl.” Thus began the negotiations for the dowry- the price of the bride. After they had decided how many sheep, goats, barrels of oil and bushels of wheat she was worth, the girl was called in. She came with a cup full of wine and a plate with bread. Without any words, the young man broke the bread, ate, and passed a piece to her. He then took the cup, drank, passed it to her. By these gestures, in his cultural way, he was saying “I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you be my bride?” The young Hebrew maiden knew what the bread and cup of wine gesture meant, and if she took the cup and drank from it, she was culturally saying “Yes, I accept your proposal of marriage”.
When Jesus passed the cup of wine to His disciples, they understood the cultural language He was using, and realized that He was inviting them into the closest possible relationship. Afterward, they began referring to themselves (The Church) and the Bride of Christ. This marriage relationship is the ultimate in intimacy. This is what God has invited us to be – intimate family members.
The form of the land, the climate, roads, trade routes, and vegetation play a big part in understanding the message of the Bible. Weather patterns are Wet and Green in the North and West, Brown and Dry in South and East. Elijah confronted the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, in the wet, green corner of the country. The Prominent geographical features in Israel are a Flat Coastal Plain, a Rolling Piedmont, a High Central Ridge, and the Deep Jordan Valley Riff. Going “up” to Jerusalem means walking uphill. From Jericho to Jerusalem is less than 15 miles with a 4000 feet elevation gain. Trade Routes and the location of Tax Stations help us understand why Jesus chose to locate his evangelistic headquarters in Capernaum.
Here’s one example of an important geographical context:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said* to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:13-18
This was the famous final exam of the disciples. Jesus took them to a Gentile region, away from the religious Jews. Caesarea was the site of temples dedicated to Pan and other gods. Behind the ancient city is a huge rock formation with carved out ledges where the statues of the idols stood. Inset in the rock is a huge cave from which flows one of the four tributaries of the Jordan River. This cave was so deep the locals referred to it as the “Gates of Hell”. (Rabbinical writers also referred to Gentile cities as the Gates of Hell.)
This famous statement “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overpower it” has led to many doctrinal controversies. The Roman Catholic Church claims this is where Jesus declared He would build His church on Peter, as the head guy. Later, Reformation Protestants declared “the rock” was not Peter but the truth that Peter had uttered that Jesus was the Messiah. However when you stand in the ruins of Caeserea and gaze at this huge rock formation where intense idol worship took place, the meaning to the disciples seems obvious. Jesus was going to build His church right on top of this culture of idol worship, and the church would be such an offensive force nothing could hold it back.
What does that do to the often-held concept of the church as a defensive fortress holding out the influences of the world- a place where we can retreat to once a week to get healed and ready for the next onslaught of satan and the world?
The Message: God’s church is an awesome offensive force.
The political environment in an important background in the Biblical story.
- Herod the Great, a ruthless ruler, was paranoid of anyone who might try to usurp his throne. He slaughtered thousands of his own subjects during his long reign. Josephus records as Herod neared his death, he ordered all the leading citizens and priests to be jailed at the Hippodrome in Jericho and that on news of his death, his soldiers were to kill all these prominent members of Jewish society so there would be “true mourning” at the time of his death, since he knew that no one would mourn his passing! Fortunately his children did not carry out this final command.
- Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was often cruel and oppressive for the average person. Taxes were heavy, and Jews were subject to forced labor and confiscation of personal property. In court, they had fewer rights than Roman citizens.
Understanding this political climate helps us get the meaning of a very familiar event:
On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” 14Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” John 12:12-14
Palm branches? This always mystified me as a young boy trying to visualize what was happening on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. Was this a sign of worship? Or was it a hot day and this was the First Century version of an umbrella? The palm branch appears on coins minted during the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70 AD. This was their national symbol, a national flag.
Hosanna? Was this a word for “Praise the Lord”? The word is a actually a Hebrew phrase meaning “Save, We Pray!” What was happening this first Palm Sunday? A crowd of Jews who were tired of the heavy yoke of Roman rule was welcoming their Messiah, who they thought was going to be a political leader, into his capital city with encouragement to use his divine powers to literally destroy the Roman legions. They waved the national flag and shouted “Give us our freedom!” This explains how a disappointed crowd could call for his execution only a few days later.
This day was the first day in the Passover week, the most holy Jewish holiday. It was the day pilgrims and locals streamed into the city to select their animal for the sacrifice on the following Friday. It was the day that The Lamb chose to present Himself to His people as the ultimate sacrificial offering. They didn’t get it, expecting Jesus to be the conquering king.
Understanding the meaning of the original words may change your application.
Praise (Hallal) the LORD! Praise (Hallal) God in his heavenly dwelling; Praise (Hallal)him in his mighty heaven! Psalm 150:1
There are seven Hebrew words used in the book of Psalms that are translated “Praise” in English. Zamar, Barak, Todah, Shabach, Yadah, and others clarify the meaning of “Praise” to a specific practice or activity (instrumental music, bowing low, shouting loud, and hand motions for these words). In Psalm 150, the word Praise is actually the wordHallal, the word we get Hallelujah from. Hallal means to praise the Lord by celebrating, by dancing, by shining forth, by acting clamorously foolish. It is a very robust, liberating kind of praise.
How does this translation affect the way you worship the Lord?
For many of us brought up in churches where we were told “quietness is reverence to God”and to talk softly, not get excited, or move too quickly, this gives a new meaning to the word “praise”. I have “hallaled” when my team scores at the football game. There is a lot of that going on at many sporting events and concerts. It seems God wants me to “hallal” when I worship Him as well.
The Scriptures are to be read as a whole, not as disjointed paragraphs or sentences.
We often read a portion of the Bible apart from the surrounding chapters and verses, and then attempt to make a doctrine out of the portion. This would be like taking one of the many letters which I wrote to Laura from Honduras before we were married, cutting out a paragraph from the middle of the letter, and then defining our relationship on that one paragraph. Letters are written as a whole, with introductory remarks, and summary comments. It would be unrealistic to simply read a paragraph somewhere in the middle of our letter and use that to define the relationship. It would be the same if we recorded a random five minute conversation between us during the course of the day, and used that “out of context moment” to define our relationship “They are always discussing who is going to change the baby’s diaper!” or “They are always hugging and kissing!” The truth is we do both and more!
Sometimes we read a verse or chapter of Scripture and come away with an incorrect impression of what the writer was communicating. We then incorporate this disjointed interpretation of Scripture into our thinking, which results in traditions and church practices that are inconsistent with the whole of Scripture. Denominations and cults are born out of this practice.
One Common Example of a disjointed interpretation:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so thatby the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:15-20 NAS
Does verse 20 mean that Jesus is not present unless we are with another believer? What is this passage of Scripture referring to?
This is the meaning often assigned to this passage- that it takes a small group for Jesus to be present. However the context suggests that it is referring to discipline within the church. Reading this passage in its entirety gives us a very different interpretation of its meaning. Paul’s letters were also meant to be read and understood in the same manner.
We hope these perspectives will inspire you in your study of the Word.
These four guidelines given here are not by any means a complete list, but we believe these will help in your search for timeless truths in all parts of the Bible that are life changing and life giving!
What Disciples Do
It was May of 1976. I had just finished two intense years of Naval Flight School, and six months of concentrated training in flying the A-6 Intruder. I had learned how to flight the airplane in all weather conditions, in multi-plane formations, operate around an aircraft carrier and deliver many types of weapons on well defended targets. What was next? Joining my first Fleet Squadron, and doing the job I had been trained for.
Attach Squadron 52, stationed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk was just returning from their final deployment to Southeast Asia. The Vietnam war had ended, and all the P.O. W.’s had returned home. I was assigned to VA-52 as a pilot, and given other duties as the Communications Officer, and Security Manager. Quite honestly, I was not too excited about my “collateral” duties, but as my boss, LCDR Joe Mobley pointed out, there was only one box on my annual fitness report for “airmanship” while there were many other “Officer Qualities” categories that I would be rated on. To be a successful attack pilot meant that I would first have to be first a successful Naval officer.
Most of the next few months were spend learning the business of Naval message procedures and handling classified documents. This had nothing to do with flying, but everything to do with winning battles. Flying the mission in the A-6 Intruder was only one part of the overall strategy for ultimately winning the war. I discovered that Naval Aviators had to be good at multi-tasking and understanding all the aspects of fighting wars from the decks of aircraft carriers. Later I served in the Operations Department, writing flight schedules, and training our pilots, and later in the Maintenance Department as the Quality Assurance officer. Being a Naval Aviator was all about understanding the entire scope of Naval warfare, and becoming proficient in all areas. This was the mark of a successful Naval Aviator. My friend Joe Mobley, who spent five years as a P.O.W. in Hanoi, was this type of officer, mastering all the varied aspects and he rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral before retiring.
In Christianity, the task of the followers of Christ can be equally daunting. We are destined to become multi-tasking individuals, exercising our disciplines and spiritual gifts in the work of the Kingdom.
Disciples love God, and love those around them. They naturally take a message that the world needs to hear, and present it in a number of ways. They involve themselves in many Kingdom oriented activities that can be classified under one word: Ministry.
As a new believer, I found myself involved in these “activities”. It all started that first Sunday at Hope Chapel when I began helping fold chairs after the Sunday morning service. I had not yet made a commitment to Christ yet, but I understood the concept of “teamwork”. Within a few weeks, I had that personal conversation with Jesus, and dedicated my life to Him. Soon I was assisting in passing out the Sunday bulletins and helping people find seating. Next I was asked to help with a children’s church class. In a few months, I had one of my own. Since I played guitar, I was asked to help lead worship at a Bible study. Soon I was teaching that Bible study. Along the way, there were many “community help” days where we cleaned up Kalama Park in Kihei. Other days we helped paint some homes, and clean up people’s yards. It was all “ministry” or what Ephesians 4:12 calls “works of service”.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:11-13
Ministry is what disciples do. They involve themselves in works of service for the Kingdom. According to the Bible, these works of service cause the church to grow, and individuals to grow spiritually. A disciple who is not involved in ministry is missing out on one of the most dynamic elements of Christianity.
Not only is it the way others are brought into the Kingdom, it is the most significant path to our own spiritual maturity.
has given specially gifted individuals called apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to train, encourage, inspire, and lead other Christians in works of service in their community so that the Body of Christ will be built up numerically and spiritually. This “building up” leads to maturity and spiritual growth on the part of every believer.
Think of anytime you have involved yourself in serving others. The first time I helped fold chairs, I became a part of the Hope Chapel ministry. When I was pressed into assisting in a children’s church class, my compassion for kids grew rather rapidly. The first time I helped paint a single mom’s home, I became more aware of the struggles of single parents, and what I could do to help. Then I was asked to visit the home of a terminally ill brother and pray with him. That brought reality to life, and I walked out of that house a changed man. God uses selfless acts of service to break us out of our self-centered worlds, and show us His Heart. This is what ministry is all about- feeling and expressing God’s heart.
What actually is ministry? How do we do it? Where do we do it? How do we prepare ourselves for it? What’s required for ministry? These questions can be answered through many paradigms and systematic approaches. Our ideas of ministry are shaped by our Christian experience. Often we confine our methods to those we are familiar with – “We have always done it this way.” Sometimes these approaches are limited in scope and the resulting fruit, because of our own cultural prejudices and denominational histories. Historian George Santayana once said that those who forget history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. Let’s take this concept a step further: We believe that those who are aware of Christian history have the opportunity to take advantage of proven methods and techniques of the Holy Spirit, and His followers.
Thus, it is helpful to look at the philosophy of ministry of some of the most successful ministers in Christian history- those in the first three centuries. Why this particular group?
The growth of the Early Church was nothing short of phenomenal! In less than three centuries, a small obscure movement with no “religious” structure headed by 11 impoverished and lightly educated men spread to become the official religion of the Roman Empire and established local congregations in the far corners of Africa, Asia, and Europe.
How did they do it? Those first missionaries had a few things working in their favor. First there was a Roman system of roads that made travel possible. Built for the marching legionaries, these roads were “built to last forever” and linked the provinces of the Empire together. When I was a child, the road from my home in Yalova Turkey along the coast of the Sea of Marmara to my school on the U.S. Air Force base at Karamursel was literally the 2000 year-old Roman road with a layer of modern asphalt on top. A few years ago, we walked along the Via Ignatia in Northeastern Greece- the very same road that Paul used in his travels! With these roads, you could actually plan a trip and get there and the peace enforced by the Roman legions allowed for generally safe travel. They began their ministry in Israel – Palestina, which was the land bridge of three continents. They could literally walk to China, India, Spain, Nigeria, and Russia. Thanks to Alexander the Great’s conquest three hundred years earlier, Greek was a common language spoken in all parts of the Empire. In addition, there was even a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures- the Septuagint. All these factors provided a favorable environment where the Gospel could be communicated across the Empire.
But more important was their philosophy of ministry.
- They were strongly motivated by their experience with the crucified and risen Christ;
- They understood the eternal stakes of their mission;
- They realized what preparation was required to effectively spread the message;
- They knew what they needed to accomplish the work;
- They had a distinct attitude of service and they understanding the cost;
- They leaned heavily on the Holy Spirit; and finally,
- They possessed a simply formula for ministry.
Our modern methods often ignore the experience of the Early Church. Our ideas of preparation tend to be more “formal”, we are more organized in our operation, our motivations focus on needs and personal desires, and reliance is often more on man’s planning and fundraising abilities than anything else. Yet Jesus declared to his disciples while at Caesarea Philippi: “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16) and He told them that upon receiving the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they would begin the Jesus Christ Remote Corners of the World Evangelism Movement (Acts 1:8). These first disciples had a strong personal relationship with the risen Lord and a sensitive ear to the Holy Spirit. They counted on God’s plan and power. Through them, Jesus did build His Church in a phenomenal manner.
One of the first questions that I usually ask a team that arrives in Nicaragua to work with us is “Why did you come?” Usually the response hits a few areas: “I felt like I could be used”; “I saw a great need”; I felt like I could learn something from this experience”, are typical responses. All of these are good reasons to go on a missions trip, but underlying all of these is perhaps the most profound and important reason we do anything for the Kingdom, be it folding chairs after service or dedicating our lives to live among an unreached people group.
Isaiah had an experience with God that is described in the sixth chapter of his book.
In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Hovering around him were mighty seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the remaining two they flew. In a great chorus they sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” The glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!”
Then one of the seraphim flew over to the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”
Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?”
And I said, “Lord, I’ll go! Send me.” Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah saw God in all his glory, and that made him despair, realizing his own sinfulness. It is a common reaction when we enter the presence of the Lord. Experiencing God’s holiness reveals our own sinfulness. Yet at this moment of despair, God did something very special. The angel brought a coal from the altar, touched it to Isaiah’s lips, and declared him a righteous man, whose sin’s had been forgiven. Imagine the joy that exploded in Isaiah’s heart. Receiving forgiveness of sin, eternal life, spiritual empowerment, and all the fruits of the Spirit is something to jump and shout about! So when God asked for a volunteer to take a message, Isaiah very naturally volunteered, knowing what God had just done for him.
Gratitude is a powerful motivation. Knowing God, and realizing what He has done for us is perhaps the most profound reason for involving yourself in ministry.
The first disciples had this gratitude. They witnessed what Jesus did on the cross for them. They received with His sacrifice with a life changing thankfulness, and responded by totally giving their lives for Him. One life totally dedicated to God is a powerful force in this world. Christian history records the effect of lives totally dedicated to God, and how individuals changed their world. Francis of Assisi, Ludwig von Zinzindorf, John Wesley, Billy Graham, John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Bill Bright and Truman Cunningham are only a few examples of men and women who so appreciated what Christ did for them on the cross, that they devoted their lives to Him, and in the process literally changed their world.
We need to have this concept when the bugs and insults get thick; when the personal and spiritual attacks come; and when discouragement and discomfort abound. We need this as the underlying reason why we are following the King in His assigned works of service. Our other motivations for our ministry may wane, yet this is the one constant: Who God is and what He has done for us!
If this is the reason for our involvement in ministry, then we come to the next obvious question: Why does God want us participating in these “works of service”? Does He really need us? Is God so limited in His power and authority that He must use the likes of me to help Him reach the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua? Obviously God could show up on the Rio Coco, snap His celestial fingers, and all the children on the Lower Rio Coco would be able to read and write. Jesus could walk down the river (in the middle), speak some amazing words, do a few amazing things, and all would see Him, and worship Him. But for some reason He doesn’t do that, but instead chooses to use us collectively to educate the children and bring the message of the Gospel. This may be a frightening concept! After all, would you rely on yourself to accomplish the most important mission in humanity? Probably not, but God does. I think that this is a clue to the real reason why He wants us involved in ministry. Let’s step back in time for some help in understanding.
Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) is a special time for all Christians. Jesus’ final celebration of the Passover with His disciples (with unleavened bread and wine) was rich with symbols of God’s grace and favor to mankind. But there is more to the story.
When a young Hebrew man decided to marry the girl of his dreams, the first person he went to was her father. He usually began his discussion by saying something like this: “Jacob, I was in the field with my flock the other day when your daughter walked by. She is so ugly that my sheep ran away and it took me three days to find them all”.
To which the father replied: “You are mistaken my son, my daughter is a beautiful girl.” Thus began the negotiations for the dowry, the price of the bride. After they had decided how many sheep, goats, barrels of oil and bushels of wheat she was worth, the girl was called in, and the plan revealed. Wine and bread were brought to the table. The young lady gave bread to the young man, and the cup of wine. Without any words, the young man drank from the cup, and passed it to her. In his cultural way, he was saying, “I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you be my bride?”
The young Hebrew maiden knew what the cup of wine gesture meant, and if she took the cup and drank from it, she was culturally saying, “Yes, I accept your proposal of marriage”.
In our culture, we make a different gesture. I remember the day in April 1987 when I asked Laura to marry me. It was at a beach café in La Ceiba Honduras, there was hot muggy air and loud blaring music (the song “Push It”). I dropped to my knee, took her hand, looked deeply into her eyes, and said “Laura, will you be my wife?” (It was one of the best moves that I ever made!). She laughed and replied “Yes of course!”
At the Last Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus took break, broke it, ate, and passed it around the table. He took a cup of wine, drank, and shared with his disciples. Along with His symbolism of the bread being his broken body, and the wine being his blood spilled out for the covenant between God and his People, his disciples saw something that reminded them of the marriage proposal. They understood that along with the sacrifice on the cross, Jesus was inviting them into an intimate relationship with them, along the lines of the most intimate relationship that they knew, marriage. They even later began referring to themselves as the “Bride of Christ”.
God is calling us into an intimate relationship with Him. Ministry is when we get to do things with Him, and in the process, we see Him more, and get to know Him better.
Think of the times when we find ourselves working with a stranger on a job. Usually through the work, you get to know your co-worker. After days and weeks of working together, a solid relationship is formed. At least that is what happens to me on a job.
When we do the work of the Kingdom, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and we let Jesus build His Kingdom by using us, we have more and more experiences with Him as we work “Together, Making Disciples”. I have had moments when I have been asked to teach, and suddenly something is coming forth from me that I didn’t prepare, which is touching the listeners much more than my original lesson. That is Jesus showing up. It is an astonishing experience.
Once, a girl came to me down river in Sawa, with a huge machete wound on her forearm. We were hours away from the nearest clinic, and I didn’t have any sutures. Instead, I took duct tape, and made some butterfly bandages, pulled the wound together, applied some antibiotic ointment, and wrapped her arm in tape. I asked Jesus to touch her, knowing that she could get an infection that could be very serious. I told her to come back the next day. She didn’t, nor on the following day. I finally went looking for her on the third, and found her. The tape was hanging loosely on her arm. When I took it off, I saw that the wound had completely closed, and there was no infection. Jesus definitely showed up and touched her!
Many times we have had broken down outboard motors, miles from the nearest mechanic. After cleaning plugs, gas lines, and all our other tricks, we pray, asking Jesus to make the motor run. Usually after a few more pulls, the engines fires, and soon we are praising the Lord as we fly down the river. There are so many times that Jesus has shown up in our ministry, that we come to expect His presence. In fact, we realize that without Him, we will accomplish nothing. Our ministry with the Miskitos, in Israel, and across the United States has been simply opportunities for us to spend time with Jesus, working with Him. In the process, we have gotten to know and appreciate Him for who He is!
In the Middle East today, there are arranged marriages. The prospective groom and bride never met until the wedding. The bride arrives at the ceremony wearing a veil, usually made from coins wired together (her dowry). The first time they actually see each other is after they are declared husband and wife. Remember the story of Jacob, who fell in love with Rachel, but was deceived by her father Laban and discovered too late that he had married her older sister Leah instead! I wonder how many Christians will show up at the “Marriage Ceremony for the Lamb” (Rev.9:19), as unknown to the Groom as those veiled Middle Easterner brides.
The desire to do ministry is in the heart of every true believer and our Lord has chosen us to work with Him. With these two principles, there are a few obvious questions to ask that will help us become more effective in our roles in the Kingdom. The first might be: “How do we prepare ourselves for ministry?”
Many of us have this experience: We are sitting in a church service, and or under a tree at the beach, and thoughts begin to fill our minds about the needs we see around us, and a desire grows within us to do something to meet that need. Most of us grew up in a religious environment where the “church staff” did most of the work with the help of a few volunteers. My friend Dave once joked when I asked him if he was regularly reading his Bible: “Bags, I pay a priest to do that for me.” He was being funny, but there is an attitude that “ministers” are those “professional” people who went to Bible school and are on the staff of our churches. We even have words that define this division in the Body of Christ: Clergy and Laity. Visit many churches in Europe built in the middle ages, and notice that there is even a “fence” (sometimes with a gate) separating the altar area where the priests work, and the seating (or standing) area of the church where the people watch and participate on a very limited basis. Indeed, our architecture reflects this separation of those professionals who minister, and those of us who just watch. For many, Christianity is still a spectator event.
Yet a reading of the Bible suggests a completely different story. If you study the Book of Acts, and the Epistles, you will notice three prominent words: “Apostolos”, “Presbuteros”, and “Adelphos”, designating people who were doing the work of the church. Jesus send forth His “Apostles”, who brought the message, established churches, and appointed the “Elders”, who oversaw the work of the “Brothers and Sisters”- the “Saints”– in each local congregation. It was a simple structure that included all members of the Body of Christ in the ministry of the Church. It seems that ministry was a team effort, involving new believers as well as the older, mature disciples.
Since there were no ministry training schools or Bible colleges at that time (aside from the traditional Jewish rabbinical schools), how were these Apostolos, Presbuteros, andAdelphos trained for their work in the Kingdom? Acts 4:13-14 provides us with an answer. The scene is the Temple in Jerusalem, and Peter has just performed a miracle. On their way up through the “Beautiful Gate”, they encountered a beggar who had been born lame. Invoking Jesus’ name, Peter seized the man’s hand, and raised him up, and the beggar was immediately healed, and able to walk for the first time in his life. This miracle caused people to quickly gather, and Peter and John began to proclaim the Gospel. Soon, the Temple guards arrived and hauled them both off to jail, where they spent the night. The next day they were brought before the religious rulers of Israel, the Sanhedrin, to explain how they had healed this lame man. Peter boldly began to tell them about Jesus’ power to heal and save. Luke records:
The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men who had had no special training. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. 14But since the man who had been healed was standing right there among them, the council had nothing to say. Acts 4:13-14
There are two observations here of note. First, Peter and John are described as “ordinary men”. The Greek word used here is “idiotes”. We get another word in English from this Greek word: Idiot.
In the Greek, “Idiotes” simply means “unskilled, or “uninstructed”, and has nothing to do with a lack in natural capacity, as it does in our language. Still, a point is made: Peter and John were Galilean fishermen who were not professionally trained according to the Jewish traditions, like all the members of the Sanhedrin who had spent their lives studying the Scripture and working at the Temple. Yet these “ordinary” men had performed a miracle which none of the council had ever managed. There is an important principle here: God loves to use ordinary people to accomplish miracles. Why? Because when God’s “idiotes” do amazing things, people naturally conclude that they must be connected to a Power much greater than themselves.
The Sanhedrin observed that these Galilean fishermen were “men who had been with Jesus”. Another important principle: Spending time with Jesus is the greatest preparation for ministry that we can have.
How do we spend time with Jesus? We do it when we pause to pray in those private moments. We encounter Him when we open His Word, and fill our minds with His wisdom. We spend time with Him when we gather to worship. During trials and tribulations, our need for Him in evident, and in that need, He shows up with comfort and peace. In our service to His people, we are working with Him. When we meet with our “Adelphos”, our common bond is His Holy Spirit. Fellowshipping with our Christian brothers and sisters can be a very real experience with our common Lord.
Another questions as we consider our roles in the Kingdom might be: “What do we need to do the ministry that God has called us to?”
In our primary school project along the Rio Coco, we could begin our list of needs with money, skilled teachers and administrators, reliable outboard motors, and many gallons of gasoline. That is our natural thinking. Actually when we began this project in 1986, we had none of those. However, apparently we had the two things that the Bible says we need to do ministry.
In Biblical history, there was a time when the refugees came back from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the leaders of this project was a priest named Jeshua. For the Temple to be rebuilt, they needed wood, stone, and other building materials, along with food and pay for the workers, military protection, and skilled artisans. However, God gave Jeshua something even greater.
Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. Satan was there at the angel’s right hand, accusing Jeshua of many things. And the Lord said to Satan, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from a fire.”
Jeshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. So the angel said to the others standing there, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And turning to Jeshua he said, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.”
Then I said, “Please, could he also have a clean turban on his head?” So they put a clean priestly turban on his head and dressed him in new clothes while the angel of the Lord stood by.
Then the angel of the Lord spoke very solemnly to Jeshua and said, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: If you follow my ways and obey my requirements, then you will be given authority over my Temple and its courtyards. I will let you walk in and out of my presence along with these others standing here.
Jeshua was given the two things which would guarantee the success of his ministry: Authority from God to do the job, and Access into God’s presence for direction. These are the two required elements for success in ministry: Authority and Access.
Authority is what a policeman directs traffic with. He has a badge given to him by the government that makes disobeying him a crime. Although he physically cannot force an eighteen-wheeler truck to stop or turn, his authority can, and usually does. When God assigns us work, the first thing He gives us is the authority to work in His name and in His power. All else happens because He has given the word.
And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Jesus said* to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. Matthew 8:5-10
The centurion was used to working under authority. It was only way he could do his job as a soldier. It is also the only way we can operate successfully in the Kingdom- under God’s authority. Only when He gives it does anything of eternal value happen.
Once God give us His authority to do His specific work, He wants us to come into His presence to receive direction. Proverbs 16:9 says:
The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.
Many steps in God’s plan are often not what we would logically think to do. For ten years we flew a Piper Seneca twin-engine aircraft from Florida to Honduras, and used it to support our school project. We never had a budget for this aviation ministry, and logically it didn’t make sense to own such a piece of equipment. Yet is became one of our most valuable assets.
We took our three Miskito Indian leaders from Nicaragua to Israel in 1997. That didn’t really seem like a good use of resources, according to our logic, yet that trip directly resulted in a film that has been shown throughout Miskitia, a relief ministry in Israel from 2000 to 2003, a book on spiritual life, pastoral training conferences in Nicaragua, a Miskito teacher going to school for a year in Jerusalem, six study tours in Israel, Greece, and the Caribbean, and many classes and seminars in the United States.
God’s plans are often far beyond our own. Access to His presence is the only way we will get direction.
Authority from God and Access to Him are the basic necessities for any work of God. Without these two critical elements, we are operating on our own strength and wisdom, and ultimately our efforts will result in little or no fruit.
With proper motivation for ministry and understanding the ultimate purpose of ministry, we can proceed with the preparation and actual accomplishing of the things God has called us to. But how do we proceed? What should our attitude be for this life of service?Paul was very specific to his disciple Timothy:
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 5Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. 6The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 7Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 2 Timothy 2:1-7
Paul utilizes three illustrations of lifestyles to his young friend and ministry partner. First he uses the soldier: one who must risk his life on a daily basis, and endure hardship of long marches, living outside in hostile environments, and facing danger on a regular basis. Soldiers were dedicated to their life of service. They were under strict discipline, and punishment for any breach in orders during wartime could be instant death. The focus of a successful warrior must be intense, not allowing any distractions to take his eye and mind off the objective. Ministers must also have their objectives firmly in mind, and be wiling to endure personal discomfort, as well as laying their own agendas aside.
Next, he brings the athlete to center stage. In the ancient world, men trained for ten months for the annual empire-wide games. They competed in various running, jumping, throwing, and wrestling events, each of which had their own particular set of rules. The ultimate tragedy for each of these athletes was to be disqualified after months of training, on a rules violation. Hours upon hours of training would result in nothing!
Ministers understand God’s priorities for their lives. They understand God principles for holy living. They know that it is all about the simple formula of Loving God with all or hearts, souls, and minds, and Loving Those He has places around us. When we violate God’s rules for His Kingdom, our fruit will diminish, and eventually if we continue in a lifestyle that is not in accordance with God’s desires for our lives, we will be disqualified from the privilege of participating with God in building His Kingdom.
Finally, Paul uses the farmer as the ultimate illustration of the attitude of faith and diligence that ministers must possess. Farmers of ancient time did not understand the seed germination process like most high school biology students do now. Even with that knowledge, farming is still an adventure in faith that God will allow the seeds to grow, provide the proper irrigation at just the right time, and allow for a good season of harvest. When it all happens properly, the farmer rejoices, and is the first to eat the fruit of his fields. If the flood comes at the wrong time, or storms during the harvest, the farmer as well as the entire community suffers.
Ministers enjoy seeing the lives of those who are brought into the Kingdom through their efforts. It is all about relationships! Through these relationships, God uses various members of the Body to support many of those who are doing specific works of the ministry. We each have our part to play. To some God has given the ability to acquire resources for the work of the Kingdom. They are simply “funnels” that God uses to pour financial and material resources through to others whom He has given assignments in various ministry projects. It is a great Kingdom concept:
“Together, Making Disciples!”
What Really Echoes into Eternity?
Here are a few closing thoughts. . . . .
We all have accomplishments that we are proud of.
In the Navy, my official designation was “Heavy Equipment Operator”. I had another one: Nuclear Weapons Delivery Pilot. I was trained to load, arm, and drop nuclear weapons. We practiced this often, with three weapons- the B-43 one megaton “Big Boy”, the B-57 underwater destructor, and my favorite the Silver Bullet- a shining stainless steel weapon that you could “dial a yield” – from .1 kiloton blast to a 1 megaton mushroom. The tactical manual gave us all we needed to know in how to deliver these weapons. Usually we would “laydown” (fly over the target and drop it at low level) or “Loft it”- pulling up over the target, releasing the bomb when the aircraft was almost in a vertical climb, continuing the loop and getting as far away from the target that you could before the 72 second timers detonated the weapon.
The manual told us that as long as we got the tail pointed at the blast, the gamma and beta rays would be absorbed by the metal of the aircraft between us and the blast. There was a caution in the book that said when the thermal wave passed the aircraft, our fire retardant flight suits would probably begin smoking. But not to worry- this was considered “normal”. We also wore an eye patch over one eye when the blast went off, because, even while wearing a special gold plated visor, the intense light would fry our exposed retina. We would then take the eye patch off, and have one good eye to get back to the ship.However, we never practiced one eyed landings on the aircraft carrier. (Did they really expect us to get back to the ship?)
We planned missions with targets inside the Soviet Union, and in Korea. Fortunately, it was all a drill. None of us wanted to be involved in nuclear war– we all figured that if that day ever arrived, we would get head colds and be “medically unfit” to fly.
There were only two times that nuclear weapons were used- in Japan at the end of World War II at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two bombs destroyed these cities, and created a lot of headlines. Actually, by this point in the war, Japan was ready to surrender. The job of bringing this might country to its knees had already been done by the dropping of small incendiary bombs on all the major cities of Japan.
For five months, these small fruit can size containers of napalm were dropped by Air Corps bombers on the urban areas of this island nation. Numerous small fires were lit, and fanned by the wind, combined to burn down many of the wooden residential and industrial areas of Japan. Thousands upon thousands were dropped. The combined effect of these small fires did a much better job of ending the war than the use of two big atomic blasts.
It is the same with the Body of Christ. There are approx. 2.4 billion people in the world. To reach 2.4 billion by preaching Christ to 1000 each day would take you over 6575 years to do it. However if each Christian would disciple three people each year who in turn would disciple 3 others and so on, it would take only 21 years to disciple the entire world’s population.
It is one by one – Won by One. Together, We can fulfill The Great Commission!
A Second Thought:
The life of a disciple is often compared to running a race.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, Hebrews 12:1-2
It is not a sprint, but more like a marathon. It is a life-long race, and we are to finish strong.
In the early 1980’s, I began to run marathons. My first was in 1983, and it was a 24.6 mile beautiful course from the Maui Mall in Kahului to Whaler’s Village in Ka’anapali on the Westside. I trained for weeks prior to the race, and amazingly finished under four hours. Later that year, I entered the Honolulu Marathon, which began at 5:30 am by Aloha Tower in downtoun Honolulu. Because there were over 10,000 runners, we all had to arrive at 2:30 am to line up for the start. I did not get the proper amount of sleep that night. I made a bad decision to eat hamburgers and pizza late the night before. I arrive at the starting line a bit uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I began strong, and actually passed the 20 mile mark at 2:20. I was excited, thinking that I could actually break three hours. But passing through Kahala, the cheeseburgers and pizza decided that they needed somewhere to go, and I found myself in the bushes of someone’s home, puking and relieving myself. The next five miles were up Diamond Head road, and to Kapiolani Park. I crawled up that hill, stopping at each water table, pouring down large quantities of water. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that my cousin was at the finish line with my camera the photo.
I didn’t finish well.
The following spring, I ran the Maui Marathon again, this time training hard, eating properly, and getting the right amount of sleep. I finished well in three hours eighteen minutes.
We are called to run the Life Discipleship Marathon. We are to discipline ourselves, and not allow anything to keep us from running our best, all the way to the finish line. Unfortunately, statistics show that in many cases, over 75% of those who begin in full time ministry in their 20’s and 30’s dropout of the race sometime along the way. They let discouragement and the traps of the enemy keep them from finishing strong.
The movie “Schindler’s List” was one of the most shocking portrayals of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. Oskar Schindler was a German businessman and member of the Nazi party. He ran a slave labor factory using Jewish inmates and manufactured munitions for the German army. During the course of the war, he developed relationships with “his Jews” that contrasted sharply to the SS soldiers who ran the camps, often protecting them from Nazi brutality and saving their lives in the process. As the war ended, and the Germans began to flee to the West to escape the approaching Russians, the order was given to kill all the Jews in the camps. Instead, Schindler began “buying” his Jewish workers from corrupt Nazi officials. He compiled a list of over 400 Jews and purchased their lives with his own money.
At the end of the movie, all the Jews on “Schindler List” gathered on the road out of the camp as Oskar made his getaway in the middle of the night. They presented him with a document signed by each testifying how he saved their lives and a golden ring made out of one inmate’s tooth, with a passage from the Talmud engraved “He who saves a life saves humanity”. Do you recall Schindler’s reaction?
As he looked at the many that he saved- parents with their children, husbands with their wives, and others, He was overwhelmed-not at what he had done, but what he could have done. He took a gold pin out of of his lapel, and with tears said “If if sold this, I could have saved two more.” He looked at his car and sorrowfully declared: “I could have gotten 10 for this car”.
Once on a flight from Orlando to Los Angles, Laura & I sat next to a young lady named Lydia. After takeoff, we discovered that she was a teacher. Since we too were in the education business, we began talking, eventually telling her about our Boss, and the great things that He had done in our lives. By the time we arrived in Los Angles, we had encouraged her to seek out a relationship with the King. Lydia was receptive.
After landing, we began walking down the aisle to deplane. As I stood there in that crowd in the airliner, I suddenly found myself standing in a much larger crowd. People were happily shouting, celebrating something. Suddenly the crowd in front of me separated, and Lydia appeared, walking toward me. She was also excited. “I just wanted you to know that I made it!” she exclaimed.
Suddenly the vision ended, and I was back on the airliner. When I got off and free from the crowd, I turned to Laura to tell her what I had seen. She had a big smile on her face and said to me “You know, she will be there!” Laura had seen the same vision! We both knew that on the final day when we entered Heaven to be with the Lord for all eternity, Lydia would be there too! We were floating on clouds as we walked through the airport.
A great missionary once wrote to those that he had a part in saving:
After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what is our proud reward and crown? It is you! Yes, you will bring us much joy as we stand together before our Lord Jesus when he comes back again. 20For you are our pride and joy. 1 Thess 2:19
On that day when we all stand together before the Lord, we won’t regret any time that we spent telling someone about the Lord, any money that we gave to the missionaries, or any efforts that we made to help God’s people and the needy of this Earth.
In fact, like Oskar Schindler,
our only regret will be that we didn’t do more!