Musings and Meditations on the Word
Previous Musings are further down the page.
JESUS DOES NOT WANT MORE BELIEVERS
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As followers of Christ our marching orders are clear: we are to make disciples. The Greek word for that phrase is an imperative—a command—issued by one who has been given all authority… in heaven and on earth. It is not a suggestion, a good idea, or a part-time endeavor, it is a command! But, to make disciples we must first be a disciple. So, we must ask ourselves, what is a disciple? Are you one? Is being a disciple the same as being a believer? Or, a “Christian”? As always, we must look to scripture for dependable answers.
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9
I once shared the gospel with someone who said he believed that Jesus is God’s son and He was raised from the dead, but he couldn’t say “Jesus is Lord”. That is the crux of the matter. For the true disciple—indeed for our eternal salvation—it isn’t an “either/or” question. A disciple of Jesus follows and adheres to His instruction, His commands. We make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.
As we have seen in previous musings, when we make that genuine profession of faith new life is created in us. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Old things”, i.e., our natural, human, self-centered, “all about me” sin nature begins to be supplanted by our new, Godly nature. As we study and dwell on scripture the Holy Spirit living within changes our way of thinking so that our natural, sin nature is transformed to become more and more like Christ. IF we allow it. IF we are willing to deny and sacrifice our “all about me” thinking and make life “all about Him.”
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Of course, we know that this isn’t an automatic or instant transformation. It is a lifetime of day-by-day, even hour-by-hour choices to sacrifice our old, selfish, “all about me”, decisions and actions and “walk as Jesus did” in our new life. Even though our new creation is “made perfect forever”, living as two entities ensures that none of us will live perfectly. The standard isn’t human perfection, it is desire and wholehearted, unqualified commitment to continuing transformation. The twelve weren’t perfect, but Jesus never gave up on them. He continued to teach, correct, and lead them to learn from their mistakes. As eleven of them “got it” and began to live it they became the driving force that sparked the flame of Christ’s church.
We see that a disciple is one who makes and lives a commitment to walk daily in "everything I have commanded you". And, we make disciples by "teaching others to observe everything I have commanded you". So, how do we live it and how do we teach it? We have the instruction manual, it’s an open book test! We also have the model, Jesus showed us how to do it.
In previous Musings we talked about “chesed” , a Godly, never failing, always faithful love that always actively pursues the best outcome for the other person in a relationship. Chesed is motivated by compassion. Over and over we see that Jesus had compassion for people He encountered because they were living apart from God and without hope. But, He didn’t simply share the good news of the Kingdom. We see that His compassion also extended to the physical suffering of the people. As they saw the compassion and chesed love of God in Jesus—the same attributes that reside in every true disciple—revealed in practical, hands-on action it affected them. Bitterness, anger, frustration, all the emotions that can accompany pain, suffering, and life’s challenges without hope and relief, melted away. They were open to the good news of love, grace, forgiveness, repentance, holiness, and eternal life with God in heaven.
As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:30-32
That brings us to the question: Are you a disciple, or merely a believer? Is your daily life marked by your whole-hearted commitment to follow the model of Jesus? Do you continue in My word, or is your life all about you? Is God’s DNA—His compassion, mercy, grace, chesed, and righteousness—living within you by the presence of His Holy Spirit? Is there evidence of it? It is not just a matter of piety, morality, or appearance. Are you seeing the needs of people around you and responding with compassion and the action of chesed love? Or, do you pass by on the other side? It is not an intellectual exercise. If you and the people around you don’t see the life of Christ in your daily walk by your actions, ie., your good works, you may be a believer, but that is not a disciple.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test.
2 Corinthians 13:5
We believe for what’s in it for us. I believe Christ suffered and died so than I can walk with him and live for eternity with him. I believe he is always with me for my benefit. I believe he is the one who goes before me for my benefit. I believe he will never leave me or forsake me for my benefit. But, do I believe enough to carry out the "good works he has prepared ahead of time" for me to accomplish? Do I believe enough to "let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven". Do I believe enough to serve others, to meet their needs even when it requires sacrifice? Do I believe enough to invest the time, talent, abilities, gifts, and financial blessings God has entrusted to me to create a return for His kingdom? Do I believe enough to go, serve, and share in Jesus’ name to make disciples?
If I believe God’s blessings in my life are for my benefit and that’s all, it is one more manifestation of a life that is selfish, self-centered, all about me! My natural, human-nature self is still in control of my life. That is not discipleship.
You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder. Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? James 2:19-20
In Matthew 22 Jesus gives us the parable of a wedding feast. Many invited to the feast ignored the Master’s invitation and went about their own business. But, others did respond and received the Master’s great blessing. Within the parable there is also another, less obvious revelation. The one who was not dressed for the feast was a false disciple, one who perhaps believed in the benefit of a free feast but was not committed to discipleship. He showed up, went through the motions, played the part, but lacked the commitment of a genuine disciple. We cannot fool God. It did not go well for him. Jesus ended the parable with the pronouncement: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14
The chosen are those who respond in true, unqualified commitment to follow Christ’s commands in compassionate, chesed discipleship, not merely belief. A very frightening conclusion is that 21st century Christianity seems to be filled with many more believers than disciples.
At the end of Matthew 24 and all of Matthew 25 Jesus prepared us for a time of judgment that is coming for each of us. His proclamations and parables here should be viewed as a whole. Jesus knew His time with His disciples was drawing to a close and He was trying to impart to them a true sense of the kingdom of heaven. The overt message is that we don’t know when Jesus will return, but return He will, and only those who are prepared will accompany Him to inherit His kingdom.
But, the more subtle thread running through all the narratives is that, regardless of when Jesus may return, true heirs will be found diligently, faithfully working in His service. Others will have the same opportunity but won’t accept their responsibility. Whether from laziness, indifference, obstinance, or lack of faith the “lovers of self” (2Timothy 3:2), “all about me” crowd do nothing for the kingdom. Without the “oil” of preparation through Bible study and prayer they can’t let their light shine. They don’t seek out opportunities and invest what God has entrusted to them into the lives of others to build a return for the Master, and they ignore opportunities to meet needs that surround us. They may or may not be “believers”, but they are not disciples.
The ministry of Disaster Relief is one place where you can “let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” As you join with a family of faithful, committed servants you will have plenty of opportunities to invest yourself to meet the needs of others in hands-on practical ways that reveal the compassion and love of Christ in you. You don’t have to go across the country, or even across the state; opportunities to serve exist in your own community. The only qualification is a serious, unqualified commitment to go, serve, and share in Jesus’ name…to even the least of these. That is discipleship.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder. Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? James 2:14-20
The one who pursues righteousness and faithful love [chesed] will find life, righteousness, and honor. Proverbs 21:21
The one who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will himself also call out and not be answered. Proverbs 21:13
Believer? Or disciple?
FRUIT PRODUCTION REQUIRES LIGHT
In previous Musings we looked at the nature and character of God that He has revealed to us in scripture. We saw that God’s existential nature and character exist within every born-again Christian by virtue of His indwelling Holy Spirit. The very essence of your perfect, new creation is the DNA of your Heavenly Father!
We also saw that we are commanded to let the light of our new life shine in the world so that those we encounter see the fruit of our new creation—our good works—, turn to God, and give Him glory. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Notice that the command—not a suggestion—is to “let" your light shine. You must daily deny your self-centered, “all about me” sin nature and consciously choose to let your light shine. Obedience means you don’t get to pick and choose when to let your light shine. It’s when God places opportunity to accomplish your “good works” in your path -- at home, across the street, across town, across the state, across the nation, or around the world. That’s what Jesus did, what He commanded, and it is our model.
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few." Matthew 9: 35-37. We see that what motivated Jesus to heal every disease and every sickness and proclaim the good news of the kingdom was His feelings of compassion for the crowd. The people came to Him for the miracles, the good works, but many left with restored bodies and new life.
As we saw in previous Musings, compassion is the first of His attributes that God revealed to us in Exodus 34. Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Exodus 34:6-7. It is easy for us to feel sympathy for another in a bad situation, but that is not the same as compassion. Sympathy says, “I am sorry for your situation.” Compassion says, “I am sorry for your situation, and I am going to do something about it.”
Another of God’s attributes is His faithful love, a translation of the Hebrew word chesed (the “ch” is pronounced with a guttural “h”, similar to “KHESS-ed”). It may be the most important word you have never heard of, even though it is essential to understanding God’s relationship with His people who are called by His name. Chesed is found at least 249 times in the Old Testament. There is no equivalent word in English that captures the full range of meanings it expresses, so it is variously translated as “lovingkindness”, “mercy”, “loyal love”, “faithfulness”, “faithful love”, “loyalty”, “fidelity”, “steadfast love”, “gracious covenant”, or “covenant love”.
The unconditional, agape love of the New Testament is one element of chesed, but it does not begin to capture the totality of meanings encompassed in chesed. It is not a love of sentiment, feeling or emotion, but of action. It is love that unfailingly always acts for the best result for the other party in the relationship, regardless of circumstances, regardless of sacrifice. While compassion is emotion and desire, chesed flows from it prompting the action. Chesed says, “I’m actively doing something to bring about the best outcome for your situation.” It is God’s love for His people that we see revealed throughout scripture, and ultimately as Christ on the cross paying the death penalty for our sin. It is the antithesis of our sin nature that says my life and action is “all about me”.
Of course, God’s compassion and chesed only reside within those who have repented of their sin, accepted Christ’s sacrifice, and made Him Lord of our lives. At the end of Matthew 25 verses 31-46, we get a glimpse of what Paul calls “the great tribunal of God” (Romans 14:10-12) where each of us will give an account of our lives to God and receive our reward or banishment. The figurative “sheep” fulfilled Christ’s command by meeting the practical needs of those they encountered while the “goats” had the same opportunities but did nothing.
What differentiated the two responses? For one group God’s compassion resulted in acts of chesed love that actively alleviated suffering. The “all about me” crowd felt no such compassion and thus produced no “good works”. They may have been altruistic, but their generosity was in their name. It was all about them, their reputation, and standing. They may have thought they were in good standing before God, but their fruit—or lack of—proved otherwise.
Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus drives home that point. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’” Matthew 7:19-23
Good fruit will only be produced where there is bright light, the light of Christ in you that results in good works in Jesus' name. New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief is the place where your good works will meet practical, physical needs and alleviate suffering. Yes, it requires commitment and sacrifice. But, as His compassion leads you to produce good works of chesed love you are revealing the very nature and character of God within you to those you serve so that they may give glory to your Father in heaven.
Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters. Matthew 12:30.
If your life isn't producing good fruit look no further than your light.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
That is an expression that was fairly common in my younger days, but one I haven’t heard in years. The challenge was usually thrown at someone who was putting on airs, criticizing someone’s behavior, or deemed to be “too big for their britches”, another expression I haven’t heard in a long time. But, the expression brings to mind another possibility: sometimes we don’t have a clear understanding of who we are.
So, just who do you think you are? Maybe not who you think. It would seem the answer is obvious, you have been you all your life. You look in the mirror and, yep, that’s you. But, is that really who you are? My casual observation, unencumbered by any research or facts, suggests that for many Christians the answer isn’t so clear. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that a Christian is a new creation. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
So, just what does that mean? First of all, Paul says a born-again Christian is a new creation. Not “will be” in the next life or “can be” if you work hard enough. Just as when you were physically born you existed, at the moment you were born-again your new creation existed. You are not a slightly used, painted over, reconditioned version of your human nature, you are a totally new creation. When you look in the mirror you see certain physical characteristics that make you you. Thanks to DNA you inherited your eye color, stature, cheek bones, hair color (or lack of hair), etc. from your parents. You also share another human characteristic with them. You—and I, and every other human on the planet have a selfish, self-centered, “all about me” spirit. As we saw in "Musings 1", we think of it as human nature, but it is actually our sin nature. We want to be our own god.
Likewise, your new creation has inherited characteristics from your Heavenly Father. In Exodus 34 we find one of the few places in scripture that God tells us about His existential nature. Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh — Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Exodus 34:6-7
We see that God is fundamentally perfectly righteous and does not countenance unrighteousness in us without dire consequences. But, we also see that He is compassionate, gracious, patient, merciful, and “rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations”. We will look more closely at the phrase “faithful love” in our next musing. As a born-again new creation, you are a child of God, and by His indwelling Holy Spirit you have inherited His character and attributes. You have the DNA of God! You are a perfect new creation. What?! Wait, that can’t be right! Well, God’s word says otherwise. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:14
The tense of the Greek verb translated perfected means it is a one-time action with continuing results. Christ’s death on the cross was a once and for all payment of the death penalty for your sin. By accepting by faith His sacrifice for you, your salvation is secure forever because God has removed your sins “as far as east is from the west ”. You are born-again once and for all as a new, perfect creation with the character traits of your Father. By His indwelling Spirit you are compassionate, gracious, merciful, patient, and rich in faithful, Godly love. Do you see that in yourself? Or do you only see your old, “all about me” self that looks back from the mirror?
Each of us must learn to think of ourselves as two entities, our old human-nature self and our new God-nature self. Of course, there is an inherent conflict between the two. Notice that Hebrews 10:14 also says that Christ’s sacrifice has “perfected forever those who are being made holy”. The Holy Spirit’s work in you is to make your selfish, self-centered, "all about me” human nature more and more like your new, perfect, Godly nature. The tense of the Greek verb here means it is an ongoing process. Ain’t it the truth! Every minute of every day we are faced with choices about how we will live. God’s Spirit will lead us to make the Godly choice, if we allow it! That’s the key, just as Jesus told us. Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me”. Luke 9:23
Our transformation to increasing holiness happens as we deny our self-centered human nature and take up the cross of commitment and obedience every day. It is a conscious choice that begins when you allow the Holy Spirit to change your way of thinking. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2
God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you is that you walk daily in this transformed life. It is possible because the light of God’s perfect character resides in you by the presence of His Holy Spirit. But, you must consciously choose to shine that light. As you walk in obedience and commitment to His commands those around you will no longer see the self-centered old you. They will see the light of life your Father has placed in you and honor Him, glorify Him, and be drawn to Him. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
God knows who you are, you are His! So, who do you think you are?
WHO IS KING OF YOUR FEEDER ?
Throughout the Spring and Summer months Loretta and I enjoy watching the hummingbirds at our feeders. One thing we find to be a constant among them: Where two or three are gathered together there will be a fight! Each one of them wants to be in control of the feeder. They all want to decide who else can feed, when they can feed, and how long they can feed. They all want to be “king of the feeder”.
It’s easy to see the parallel between their behavior and our human nature. At our core we all want to be in control. Whether driving, bickering over politics, working with others, or simply coexisting with other humans, we want others to bend to our will. “Be reasonable, do things my way!” We want to make the rules, to decide what is right and wrong, what is best for us, what we will and won’t do. In other words, we all want to be our own god. Living in society teaches us that parameters do exist, and most of us learn to behave civilly, at least sometimes. But, deep inside there still exists that desire for “our right” to be “the right”, to do what we want when we want, and for everyone else to get out of our way. What we think of as human nature is really our sin nature. Consider that everything we think of as sin springs out of that "all about me" sin nature. It began with Satan who was cast out of heaven because in his pride he wanted to be God (Ezekiel 28:11-17; Luke 10:18). It manifested itself in the garden when Eve and then Adam chose defiance over obedience because they wanted to “be like God” (Genesis 3:4-6).
Within the New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief family we talk a lot about commitment. It is the only qualification one needs to serve with us. We know Jesus commanded us to humble ourselves and serve others just as He came into the world to serve us by His sacrifice on the cross.
"Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-27)
Each of us must decide every day if we will commit ourselves to obedience or choose defiance. God expects His people who are called by His name to serve Him by serving those He places in our path. Our obedience brings glory to God as we reveal His love to the world by our actions.
“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
Jesus commanded that we let the light within us shine, and we do that by doing good works that give glory to our Father in heaven. Those good works and the opportunity to accomplish them are not happenstance. They were ordained for each of us from before there was time.
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We are not saved to sit. Our new creation is created in Christ Jesus to accomplish good works prepared for us long ago that “give glory to your Father in heaven”. Disaster Relief is a place where anyone can invest the talents, abilities, gifts, finances, life experiences, even the time that God has entrusted to you, according to your ability. Opportunities to Go, Serve and Share in Jesus’ name are all around us, at home, across the state, or across the nation.
Jesus made it clear that the true test of our professed love for him is very simple:
Do you love me? Feed My sheep.
How can we not?
Who is the king of your feeder?