Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Followers of Christ

When God Calls Your Name He Calls You A Follower of Christ   

Matt 9:9, As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's office; and He said to him, Be My disciple [side with My party and follow Me]. And he rose and followed Him. AMP

The French philosopher Voltaire was once challenged by a friend to ad-lib a story involving thieves. Voltaire thought for a moment and then began: "Gentlemen, there was once a tax collector. . . ."

Tax collectors were widely regarded as thieves in Jesus' day as well, a reputation that was often well deserved. Matthew's job before Jesus called him was to collect the tolls and customs due from those who brought merchandise in and out of Herod's territory. This task was assigned to the highest bidder, who then leased the responsibility to tax gatherers, lower officials who were responsible for actually collecting the money. These tax gatherers, or publicans, were allowed to keep any money that was collected over and above the promised amount. Some tax gatherers actually practiced a form of extortion by levying an amount that they knew could not be paid, and then charging high interest on the unpaid bill.

If being a tax collector was an unlikely career choice for Matthew because of its unpopularity, becoming a follower of Jesus the Rabbi was downright unimaginable. Matthew's friends provide us with a window into his lifestyle. They were primarily other tax collectors and "sinners," a technical term used in the New Testament for those who ignored the Torah and lived immorally. Jesus called Matthew away from all of this with the command to "follow me." The Greek verb used here meant to walk behind someone or to follow in their path. For Matthew, this was literally true. He "left everything" and immediately became a disciple of Jesus, traveling with Him from place to place (Luke 5:28). However, Jesus' invitation called for more than a change of residence. It also required a change of behavior. Matthew abandoned both a sinful lifestyle and a lucrative—but dishonest—livelihood.

This was not true of everyone who was given the opportunity to become a follower of Jesus. Some refused Christ's invitation to follow because of the uncertain conditions Jesus' disciples faced (Matt 8:18-20). Others were unwilling to break family ties (Matt 8:21-22). Still others were afraid of the financial loss they would incur as a follower of Jesus (Matt 19:21). Although ultimately unwise in their decision not to follow, their estimation of the cost of following Christ was accurate. Jesus warned that those who wished to be known as His followers must be willing to say "no" to self and follow the way of the cross (Mark 8:34), and that they must make a daily decision to identify themselves with Him (Luke 9:23,26). He said that their allegiance to Him must take precedence over every other human relationship: "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).

Instead of being ashamed of Christ, Matthew threw a large party for all his friends and made Jesus the guest of honor. A number of Pharisees were also there, probably not as guests but as observers, watching from the street. The Pharisees, whose name literally meant "separated ones," purposely avoided contact with the common people, or "people of the land," because they were not strict enough in their observance of the Law. In addition to the regulations found in the Law of Moses, the Pharisees were especially concerned about obeying the additional commands of the oral tradition that had been handed down to them by those who had interpreted the Law. A Pharisee would not confide in the common people or accept their testimony in court. In the Pharisees' view, the common people did not make suitable marriage partners because the Pharisees considered their women "unclean." In fact, the Pharisees taught that the "people of the land" were so unclean that it was unlawful even to eat with them. Consequently, when they saw Jesus not only associating with such people, but willingly attending a feast with tax gatherers and notorious sinners, they were outraged. When they asked for an explanation, Jesus replied: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt 9:12-13).

When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President of the United States, he electrified his audience and mobilized an entire generation with the challenge to: ". . . ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Like President Kennedy's challenge, Jesus' call to His followers was one to serve. However, it is service grounded upon a different foundation. Normally, a leader looks for the most qualified candidates to be followers. But Jesus' choice of Matthew reveals a different agenda. He did not select His disciples on the basis of what they could do for Him but on the basis of what He could do for them. Because of this, the fundamental prerequisite for becoming a follower of Christ is faith.

As Christians, our confidence is not in our own suitability to the task, but in Christ's willingness to extend mercy to us. When we choose to follow Jesus, we exchange our lives for His, placing ourselves completely at His disposal. As Henrietta Mears has said: "God does not always choose great people to accomplish what He wishes, but He chooses a person who is wholly yielded to Him." It is this more than anything else, that will determine the kind of follower we become.

Lord Jesus, I accept the call to follow You and place my life at Your disposal. Empower me by Your grace to choose the way of the Cross each day and to introduce others to You. Amen.

Thanks to John Koessler for allowing us to publish his material.www.johnkosessler.com
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of ten books and numerous articles. He also serves as a contributing editor for the Moody Bible Institute publication Today in the Word, where you can read his monthly “Theology Matters” column. You can contact John via email at John.Koessler@moody.edu or by phone at (312) 329-4077.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Message From The Land Where The Giants Dwell.

Before we begin ask yourself, ‘what is your perception of your life and your circumstances?’  In Numbers Chapters 13 and 14 we find an excellent scriptural passage revealing much about how we can approach what is and will be in our lives. I encourage you to read it when you have time to meditate on it. For now let’s look briefly at a few key points. The three words that mark these points are, chosen, blessed and accountable.

First, you see God choosing the twelve to go and do His work. What an honor to represent God’s people in exploring the Promised Land. Second, the assignment was pleasant and full of rewards. Look at the size of its fruit and the abundance it held for them. They had the blessing to see before everyone else all that God had prepared for them. Third, they were accountable to tell the people what wondrous things God had waiting for them.

If you could send someone else ahead to see your circumstances in the days ahead, what report would they return with? God’s Word promises a future with hope because of His care for you in Jer 29:11. The places that God intends to be full of blessings and great bounty are also the places the giants want to settle into, so that they might steal what God has for you. These giants want to dwell in your places of blessing and fulfillment. You must be like the two spies who brought back the good report and have faith that God has a future of blessing and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him for His strategy to take what is promised to them. There is an old song we used to sing in the church which had this phrase in it, “Whose report will you believe?

There is an interesting passage toward the end of Joshua’s life in which he says that God did not drive out all of the inhabitance of the land so that they might learn to do battle. Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).  (Judges 3:1-3) NASU

Your circumstances are waiting for you to encounter them. You can encounter them through faith as the promises of God fulfilled or through fear as great trials to face without hope of success. You will not escape battle, but you will take the land if you trust His promises and seek His strategy for each battle.

There is a message coming from the land of the giants, but whose report will you believe?

Say it with me, ‘I will believe the Report of the Lord’!
Copy write (c) 2011 Wayne Newcomb

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Christ's Church

Matt 16:18-19
(from Names of the Believers © 1997 by John M. Koessler. All rights reserved.)

18 "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.  19 "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." NASU
One bright June afternoon, a small crowd of friends sat in lawn chairs in our yard and watched as a team of workers built our new church. A prefabricated building, its walls had actually been made in a factory and then delivered to the building site on a large flatbed truck. Everyone cheered as the first wall swung into place, and in a few hours the entire frame was up.

The finishing process took much longer. Doors were hung and the inside walls were finished off with plaster, paint, and wallpaper. And after the builders completed their job, we turned our attention to the inside furnishings. We took as much care in deciding on the color of the carpet as we did in picking the building's floor plan.

However, before any of the walls went up, before one pane of stained glass was put in place, before an inch of carpet was laid down, or a single drop of paint was splashed on, the building's foundation had to be planted. Steel rods and concrete were used to fix the building's footings in place. Although this wasn't nearly as exciting as the raising of the walls, in many ways it was more important, because a building is only as strong as the foundation upon which it stands.
In Matt 16:13-19, Jesus lays bare the foundation of His church in an exchange with the apostle Peter that took place near the end of His Galilean ministry. As the crucifixion drew nearer, Jesus began to focus less on the crowds and more on His disciples, in order to prepare them for His departure.

While traveling through the region of Caearea Philippi, Jesus asked the disciples to describe the rumors being spread about Him. "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" He asked. The disciples all spoke up at once. "Some say that you are John the Baptist come back to life!" exclaimed one. "Others think you are Elijah," said another. Someone pointed in Jesus' direction, chuckling, "Oh, really? I heard someone say that He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Everyone laughed.
In the silence that followed, Jesus probed His disciples further. "And what about you," He asked gently. "Who do you say I am?" The disciples looked nervously from one to another, as if they were afraid of giving the wrong answer. At last, Peter replied, blurting out the words like one who had been bursting to tell a secret that was burning inside him: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" His eyes shown fiercely, daring Jesus to deny it.

But Jesus did not. Instead, He beamed back a smile of approval and said, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

Jesus' promise here seems to have been a kind of pun based on Peter's name. Peter's given name at birth was actually Simon, which meant "hearing." When Simon's brother Andrew first brought him to meet Jesus, the Savior renamed him Cephas, an Aramaic term that meant "stone" or "rock." The Greek form was Petros, or Peter. Anyone who knew Peter well could not help but see the irony in Jesus' words. Old impetuous Simon, the well-meaning but unstable fisherman. If his behavior as a disciple is indicative of his previous life, Peter was a man quick to speak and act, but easily swayed by the opinions of others. It was this trait that eventually caused him to deny his Lord and earn a sharp rebuke from the apostle Paul for shunning Gentile Christians when in the presence of Jewish believers.

However, Peter the man was not the rock upon which the church was founded. Rather, it was Peter's confession that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. It is here that we see the true foundation of the church and discover its most glorious name. The church that was about to come into being would not be Peter's church. It would be Christ's church, founded not upon human principles or earthly philosophy, but upon a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. This church is made up of all those who recognize Jesus' true nature and genuinely confess Him as Lord and Savior.
This is an important reminder in an age when so much of the church's thinking and practice seems to be drawn from the secular realm. In the world's view, an organization's first concern is efficiency: What is the bottom line? Are we making a profit? How can we get more for less? While efficiency is certainly important, the church's first concern is fidelity. For us, the bottom line is not the profit margin but the will of our Lord and Savior. Before we consider the methodology of others, before we even consider our own tastes, the church must look first to Christ.

It is in this name that we see the secret to the church's power. Jesus' words to Peter promised victory over the grave, giving a picture of the church storming the gates of Hades. This metaphor is used several times in the Old Testament for death (Job 17:16; 38:17; Ps 9:13; 107:18; Isa 38:10). In the ancient world, a city's gate was its first line of defense. When an army seized the gate, it captured the city. Jesus pictured the church as an invincible army able to meet and overcome death in its own stronghold.
In Matt 16:19 Jesus also granted the church authority to "bind and loose." The rabbis used these terms to speak of forbidding and permitting. Jesus characterized this authority as the "keys of the kingdom of heaven." In the ancient world, keys were a symbol of responsibility. For example, when Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, was made governor of the palace under Hezekiah, the Lord prophesied: "I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (Isa 22:22). In Jesus' day, the scribes were given a key at their ordination to symbolize their possession of the key of knowledge (Luke 11:52).

The church, then, has real authority in the spiritual realm. While the prospects of individual congregations or denominations may rise or fall, the future of the church is assured. It will do more than merely survive; it will be victorious because it is built upon the indestructible foundation of Christ Himself.
Father, thank you for this reminder that the church belongs to Christ. Help us to recognize His authority and rely upon His power in all that we do. Amen.

Thanks to John Koessler for allowing us to publish his material.www.johnkosessler.com
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of ten books and numerous articles. He also serves as a contributing editor for the Moody Bible Institute publication Today in the Word, where you can read his monthly “Theology Matters” column. You can contact John via email at John.Koessler@moody.edu or by phone at (312) 329-4077.

Art work above  by William Hallmark

The Church: Grace is the Soil

There are many models by which God's people organize and structure themselves to accomplish what Jesus began to do and teach, Acts 1:1.

I believe that teaching on the old covenant vs. the new covenant is vital to establishing the atmosphere for the new life in Jesus and God life environment that believers are called into.

The supernatural power of God is only healthy when it operates in holiness that flows from grace. Grace is the true Foundation of the supernatural life and work of God! Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets and it is through His life, death and resurrection that we have His life and that we can continue to do the things Jesus began to do and teach.

Doing the works that Jesus began to do and teach is important, but we must do them out of a life that is changed and that has the imprint of His character and humility. God's power can not be handled by a person without that person having a large measure of His grace and mercy which has been worked out deep within them.

Perfect power in the life of a not so perfect person will corrupt or brake that person unless they continuously humble themselves and make room for His grace and mercy to operate and make it possible for God's great power to work in and through them to bring life and not death.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth is our first study from
Names of the Believers © 1997 by John M. Koessler

My father was a great fan of Dixieland jazz. Over the years he amassed a sizable collection of records and tapes featuring some of the greatest artists of the '20s and '30s. I never acquired a taste for his style of music, and one day when I complained about the "noise," he replied with a favorite Latin phrase of his: "Degustibus non disputandem est."
When I asked him what it meant, he explained: "It means, 'There is no point in arguing about taste.'"

Jesus comments about what might be described as "tasteful Christianity" in Matt 5:13. Here, however, He is not speaking of aesthetic differences but about the critical role the church plays in society. In referring to His disciples as "the salt of the earth," Jesus is saying that Christians make the world a habitable place. In other words, the only reason the present world is livable is because the church is still in it.
Today, when we refer to someone as "the salt of the earth," we usually mean that he or she is a likable person. But when Jesus used the phrase, He was not talking about personality but moral character.

This comparison would not have seemed strange to Jesus' listeners because salt was an important part of their daily existence. Like us, the people of Jesus' day used salt as a seasoning to make food taste better. But during this time, salt's most important function was to preserve food. In New Testament times there was no plastic wrap or refrigerators to keep things fresh. If meat was to be kept from spoiling before it was cooked, it had to be cured with salt. When Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, it is a reminder that we are as important to the society in which we live as salt was to the homemaker in New Testament times.

Jesus' reference to salt would also have been familiar to the disciples because it was used by the rabbis, who compared the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, to salt, and said, "the world cannot survive without salt." By calling His disciples the salt of the earth, Jesus was saying, in effect, "You are the 'living Torah' to those around you."
It is no coincidence that this analogy appears in a context that deals with persecution. It anticipates that persecuted believers might be tempted to ask: "If the world doesn't want us, why doesn't God just take us home?" Jesus' answer is that the world, while it may not want the church, desperately needs its presence.

We should also note that Jesus includes a warning when He refers to His disciples as "salt." He is saying that there is a certain quality that is essential to the church, and without that quality, we become useless. The salt that was used by Jesus' contemporaries was not pure but a mixture of salt and other minerals. When it was exposed to air, it tended to lose its flavor and could no longer serve its original purpose. When this happened, the salt was sprinkled on walkways to prevent slipping, in much the same way we use rock salt today.
How does the church lose its saltiness? By conforming to the world around it. The church cannot function as salt when it conforms to the world it was meant to season.

There are times when it is good to conform. For example, when I am driving on the expressway, I don't want someone going south in my lane when I am traveling north. It is good to conform to the right things. Rom 8:29 promises that believers will be conformed to the image of Christ: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." God uses my circumstances as I offer myself to the Holy Spirit to make me more like Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, the conforming process can work in the other direction as well. Paul warns: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Rom 12:2).
Who will shape us? Will it be God's Spirit, working through God's Word and our daily circumstances to transform us into the image of Christ? Or will it be the world, which presses us into its own mold? If we allow the world to shape us, we will become like flavorless salt, useless to God and man alike.

Being the salt of the world isn't always comfortable. Roger discovered just how hard it can be when he moved into a flat in a rundown section of Detroit. His upstairs neighbor was an unfortunate woman who suffered from a mental disorder. Her doctors had prescribed medication, but she usually forgot to take it. Roger would often hear her screaming at her husband all night long. Sometimes when she was finished with her husband, she would come downstairs and pound on Roger's door and scream at him.

During one of his neighbors' all-night family fights, Roger heard the woman complain that she didn't have enough money to buy food for the family. So the next day he went out and bought several bags of groceries and left them at their door. The woman took the groceries, but instead of thanking Roger, she cursed him!

Perhaps you work with people whose values are radically different from your own. Like Roger, you may have an unfriendly neighbor. Or it may be the members of your own family who have caused you to plead with God that He change your circumstances. But instead of the changes you asked for, things seem to remain the same. Now you begin to wonder: "If God really loves me, why has He placed me in such a situation?" Jesus' words provide the answer: If the function of salt is to preserve that which is decaying, where will it be needed most?
Lord Jesus, make me more like You so that my influence in the world will leave behind the lingering savor of Your presence. Amen.
(from Names of the Believers © 1997 by John M. Koessler. All rights reserved.)_
Thanks to John Koessler for allowing us to publish his material.www.johnkosessler.com

John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of ten books and numerous articles. He also serves as a contributing editor for the Moody Bible Institute publication Today in the Word, where you can read his monthly “Theology Matters” column. You can contact John via email at John.Koessler@moody.edu or by phone at (312) 329-4077.

Names of the believer

Names of the believer by John Koessler
MOODY PRESS http://www.johnkoessler.com/
I am always on the lookout for material which will strengthen believers. This book which is now out of print dovetails with the weekly devotional theme we have been building this year. I want to thank the author and encourage you to go to his web page and find out more about him and his other books and resource. I would also encourage you to memorize the key verse for each study. Below you will find the table of contents.
1. Salt of the Earth
2. Christ's Church
3. Followers of Christ
4. The Branches
5. The Believers
6. The Disciples
7. Abraham's Offspring
8. Those Who Have Been Brought from Death to Life
9. Children of God
10. God's Elect
11. My People
12. Those Who Call Upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ
13. The Saved
14. God's Fellow Workers
15. God's Field
16. God's Building
17. God's Temple
18. Servants of Christ
19. Those on Whom the Fulfillment of the Ages Has Come
20. God's Workmanship
21. Fellow Citizens With God's People
22. Partakers of the Promise
23. The Body
24. Imitators of God
25. Children of Light
26. A Radiant Church
27. The True Circumcision
28. Brethren
29. God's Household
30. A People That Are His Very Own
31. Partakers of Christ
32. Those Who Are Waiting for Christ
33. A Holy Priesthood
34. A Holy Nation
35. Aliens and Strangers
36. Christians
37. The Bride of Christ

John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of ten books and numerous articles. He also serves as a contributing editor for the Moody Bible Institute publication Today in the Word, where you can read his monthly “Theology Matters” column. You can contact John via email at John.Koessler@moody.edu or by phone at (312) 329-4077.